What if the hokey-cokey really is what it’s all about? Social networking & psychology of learning
Is the hokey-cokey really what it’s all about? Maybe. Social media could well be the most potent form of informal learning we have ever seen. It's habitual, has mass participation and right now you're reading something in that context. So how congruous is it with the psychology of learning?
Psychology of learning in 5 words
What makes good learning practice? Well, I always think the psychology of learning can be summed up in three words ‘less is more’. You could add another two ‘…and often’. There’s a number of established and well researched ways to improve memory and therefore learning:
2: Make it meaningful
You know the theory, and why telephone numbers are chunked down into 3 and 4 number chunks. It’s the most effective way of getting through the crippling limitations of our incredibly limited working memories. Social media is chunking personified. Twitter forces you to chunk down to 140 characters, a great teaching discipline. YouTube revolutionised learning and forced a rethink on the old model of 10, 30 or 60 minute videos, which was only to satisfy timetabling on live TV. Facebook posts tend to be short, as do texts, emails, blog posts and even Wikipedia pages. Social media’s success is largely down to its brevity. Witness the success of txting. When you give people cheap and free communication media, they keep things short. If only teachers, lecturers, trainers and instructors would learn do the same.
We know that the brain needs to link new knowledge and skills into its existing network of knowledge and skills. It follows that we need to pay attention to what students already know. Social media is by definition personal and tuned to your existing knowledge. Recommendations and links on Twitter and Facebook are from people you know well and therefore more valuable. Blogs are personal voices. YouTube videos have been shot by people who care. Texts are intensely personal. Wikipedia pages are carefully crafted by many experts. I can’t tell you how many useful articles, websites, research papers, books, youtube videos and generally useful stuff I’ve received via these media.
Make it meaningful
OK, social media does have a lot of frivolous stuff, at least it would seem frivolous to others, but if football, food or cats is your thing, why not? Social media is selective. I have selected the people I have as friends on Facebook, and the people I follow on Twitter. I almost always email and text people I know. RSS feeds allow me to select what I want fed to me. Social media is not broadcast media, like TV or Radio. You are not fed a diet of stuff that comes from some editorial class, you become your own editor or programme controller. The content you receive or are led to is more meaningful because your chosen network is meaningful.
Social media invariably has dialogue as part of its assumed model, not lectures or long-winded presentations. Facebook posts, Tweets and blog posts often start with a question and the ability to reply, comment and continue the dialogue is embedded in the software. Social media is in this sense the most social form of learning.
When a number of interested parties engage in the dialogue, in a thread or list of comments, you get real peer learning. I love it when people comment on my blog, facebook posts or tweets, especially my peers. I’d contend that most actual peer learning takes place on social media between students, getting help from each other, recommending stuff and so on, rather than in formal peer-to-peer structures and software. Social media is peer learning.
I use social media a lot and I mean a lot, daily certainly but often more frequently. I blog often and this has been a huge learning experience. On Facebook and Twitter, I get regular updates on whatever zeitgeist issue is being aired. The forgetting curve has long been learning’s dirty secret, a massive drain on productivity and little attempt is made to counter its effect. Social media does this by virtue of its popularity and pull.
We learn by doing and this is perhaps the most surprising aspect of social media and one that is often missed. I get to know about events, conferences (hashtag reports on Twitter), books I want to buy, organisations I’m interested in, causes I want to support, issues on which I want to sign petitions and so on. People use social media dating sites to have fun, find partners, even on occasion marrying. In other words, it can change lives. Ask Jan Kaufman, who swears that it almost saved her sanity when she was recovering from a stroke. My blog has led to lots of speaker and other commercial opportunities. Social media leads to ACTION.
I’ve come to loathe dinner-party moaners who can’t stand social media with comments such as, “Who wants to know whether someone has made a cup of tea or not!” Well, who wants to know your uninformed opinions. I, and more than a billion others, been using many forms of social media for many years and have NEVER seen anyone say this online or anything as remotely banal. Social media is a form of genuine communication and informal learning, which is how most of us learn most of the time. It’s the hokey-cokey, I’m in, I’m out and I shake it all about!