Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Twittering = learning?

I often have conversations about the role of social media in learning processes. Sometimes people might say: 'Ok, but twitter is not learning. How can you learn from 140 characters?!

The theory about learning you embrace determine how you look at social media and its importance (or unimportance). From a behaviourism point of view, twitter might not be very relevant as a means for learning. However, from a social-constructist view you might see a twitter network building relations. In that case twitter is very important. I used a Dutch article about various learning theories: ontwikkeling van leren in organisaties by Keursten to look at what the various thought streams might think about twitter:
  • Behaviorism: learning is equivalent to influencing and changing behaviour. You do this by offering situations to practice the desired behavior. One example is a course about giving feedback. You can teach people the right way of giving feedback and create a situation to practice it. Twitter will not be seen as an important means for learning, because the change in behavior needs face-to-face to practice (although there are also research which shows that an innovative program using a webcam to practice social skills worked very well).
  • Cognitivism: learning as information processing; the mind and thought process is put at the centre of the learning process. Within cognitivism, a clear distinction between knowledge, skills and attitudes is made and sharpened. I see the cognitivist approach reflected in many conferences, where the expert notify and explain to participants what the latest findings and trends are. Twitter will be interestingly but mostly because people may link to articles, books and information. I must admit I have used this argument myself. I would now respond differently.
  • Pragmatism: learning by doing. This an approach I see clearly in the design of 23things, a course for librarians. See for instance here. People can learn 23 new Web 2.0 tools by using them, experimenting and experiencing them. Within this movement Twitter will not be so important (unless you want to learn how to use Twitter!)
  • Constructivism: learning means developing a unique world view based on all experiences acquired. Learning is a process by which a professional adds new knowledge and ideas to his or her existing body of knowledge. Independent and self-directed learning is important. Within this thought stream twitter is more interesting. Twitter provides a window on the world. And using twitter means quite some self-direction, choosing who to follow, what to tweet etc.
  • Social constructivism: learning through collaboration. This school of thought views learn as the result of interactions between individuals, learning within networks and communities is important. I am myself a supporter of this school of thought. That explains why I think being active on Twitter might be an important part of a learning process. Using twitter to build your network and maintaining relationships.
Keursten did not yet talk about connectivism. This is also an important school of thought developed by Siemens.
  • Connectivism: was developed because the previous schools of thought were not impacted by technology. These theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations. Learning is a process that occurs within chaotic environments of shifting core elements and is not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning can reside outside of ourselves. Connectivism might be summarized as 'I store my knowledge in my network'. In the case of connectivism Twitter might be a source of serendipitous learning and self-organisation.
When you are talking about using Twitter and Yammer (a single twitter tool) within your organization is therefore important to do this in the context of your learning theory. This may help surface the differences. How do you feel about learning through twitter?
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DebbieFuco said...

Enjoyed this post. It is always important to look at things from different points of view. Sometimes we are puzzled when others don't see things the way we do. I for one have trouble understanding how people cannot find value in Twitter. (I, share your social reconstructivist point-of-view.) Your post reminds me that everyone is influenced by the ideology from which they view and live life. Twitter is no exception. Thanks!

Joitske said...

Thanks! I realized that I often try to explain why twitter is important- but it won't land with someone having a different view..

Ove said...

The question about what count as learning is obviously still important and relevant.
When it comes to Twitter it of course can be part of someone's learning - it can generate new thoughts, new ideas, new inspiration, be the missing piece etc. And it connect people to the knowledge pool as well as to competencies.
Tweets, followers and following as well as chasing links can be part of generating learning. But it is also important to maintain that Twitter is not learning - You don't learn with/from nouns but from verbs.
And that should also be a comment on the connection between pragmatism and twitter as part of learning. Learning with Twitter from a pragmatic pov is doing things with and through others.
I'm not too keen on sticking with one learning theory because it seems to me different learning theories addresses different aspects of learning. I do, however, coentent, that you don't find truth/facta - you have to make them througt actions as for instance talking about them creating theory or do other things in a context with other.
Great post by the way.

Frans Droog said...

Nice way of looking a bit further and therefore differently at the ´simple´ tool twitter.
(Hope you don´t mind me pointing you to a small typo in the title of the post at the same time :-) )

Joitske said...

@frans droog- thanks- removed the typo!

@ove thanks for your thoughts. I didn't understand: 'you can't learn from nouns, but you can learn from verbs'.

I liked your point about pragmatism- and the fact that you don't have to embrace just one learning theorie. I have been thinking that myself.

Ove said...

The discussion about learning from nouns and verbs go back to Prenskys notion about the difference between learning from nouns and learning from verbs. (http://bit.ly/mzDHkQ) Many educational researchers have contributed to the discussion and I've also written a blog post about the distinction. (http://oveucsj.posterous.com/what-verbs-can-education-learn-from-napster)
The discussion relate to the 'e'-word as in e-learning. Electronic devices doesn't generate learning only student activity generates learning. iPads are not 'learning machines' but only means that can be used for different purposes. Learning is about doing - about verbs - and not about the gadgets (nouns) you use in teaching.
Sorry for presuming that this discussion was well known to everybody. You always have to be careful about that kind of assumptions.