Learning and social networks

My interest in learning, and in the ways in which we can enable it, makes conversations like this really interesting.

This is my (very rapidly composed) take on it. I write it here because my intended comment in that conversation grew in size so fast that, before I could get it out, it seemed to have become too large for a comment; that, also says something about the medium/channel communication!

So here goes …

Effective learning requires effective communication. The communication experts tell us: 1) that all communication takes place in a conversation; and 2) that all meaning is situated in context. They also tell us that the more complex the meaning to be communicated, the “richer” the channel that is required; that is, more bandwidth and more opportunity for interaction and feedback.

After 17 years of experience of delivering “instructor led training” and some contact with eLearning, my take is that eLearning has a very long way to go. There is a big gap between the effectiveness of learning from the narrow bandwidth of electronic systems and being in a room with the door closed, your phone off, a group of like minded people and one or more instructor. At this point, eLearning appears to be most useful for self-contained messages and for refresher or extension training for experienced people. The leading eLearning people are interested in “serious games” because they see how engaged people can be and how rapidly people learn when playing games; this is an interesting avenue, but there are other avenues such as social networking.

We learn most from what we hear other people asking and telling other people; this is not because we are not getting answers to our questions, but because we do not know all of the questions to ask and, even for the ones that we are interested in, we do not know all the ways to ask them; also, in both cases, we do not necessarily know whom to ask. It is a numbers issue: a group of people ask each other more questions and give more answers than we are individually able to generate.

For the purposes of learning (and, actually, any real communication) the main things lacking from most social networking services are in the ability to manage conversations and the context of them. This is why, at first sight, Google Wave strikes a nerve, because the central concept (a wave) is a conversation.

Services like Twitter benefit from the shortness of the messages because this encourages interaction and feedback at a level which is commensurate with the (very low) richness of the channel, this in turn stimulates conversations.

More on this over time, no doubt!

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