What is social learning, and why does it matter?

Despite Vice Chancellor going public with SocialLearn at ALT-C in 2009, my research work remained largely under the radar, resulting in a series of internal reports that were not available outside the university. As the restrictions relaxed we began to move toward wider dissemination – starting with the project blog.

In January 2010, I blogged about online social learning – it’s one of my blog posts that I refer back to when I am thinking about the possibilities for social learning:

Web 2.0 extends the possibilities for social learning, making it possible not only to locate and access a vast amount of content from all around the world, but also to engage in extended interaction around and about this material. Learners – particularly those learning outside formal settings such as schools and colleges – may find themselves adrift in an ocean of information, struggling to solve ill-structured problems, with little clear idea of how to solve them, or how to recognise when they have solved them. It’s here that social learning has its place – helping people to use these resources to construct knowledge together effectively.

Social learning can take place when people:

• clarify their intention – learning rather than browsing

• ground their learning – by defining their question or problem

• engage in focused conversations – increasing their understanding of the available resources.

These three actions help us to build meaningful connections online, and offer learners the benefits of co-operative activity and of collaboration.

The challenge for SocialLearn is to support and encourage users to clarify their intention, ground their learning and engage in focused conversations.

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