Links of Note: Social, Informal, and Online Learning (Sept. 2009)

It’s back to school time, here in Boston, and what a busy month it has been, settling my kids into the new school year, and as for myself, starting a new tech writing contract assignment. So, with these disclaimers, I belatedly present my Sept. post for this “Linkworthy” series,  featuring this month a round-up of links on social learning.

Despite concerns to the contrary, a few recent studies conclude that social learning may in fact be more valuable than traditional learning and teaching methods, especially for today’s students, known as Millennial Learners and Digital Natives. However, others continue to link online networking and computer games to a host of health risks, from cancer to autism.

Whether its impact is positive or negative, or a situational somewhere in between, it’s clear to me that social media is changing the way we think. What say you?

Learning Styles

  • Understanding the Three Learning Styles: The Visual Learner,  The Auditory Learner, and The Kinesthetic Learner.
  • From eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions e-Magazine: Understanding Today’s Learner (PDF doc) by Jane Hart.  This link represents a highly informative essay, with a focus on management strategies, based on learning styles in the work-place. In the introduction, Hart provides a nice break-down of characteristics for the various generational cohorts, describing Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.

More on Millennial, Digital, and Visual Learners

Social Media’s Effect on Learning

  • Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom: A recent 93-page report on online education (including Web-based video, instant messaging, and collaboration tools), conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, concluded, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms. That enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful.
  • Social Media’s Effect on Learning: This Wall Street Journal post reports on the results of a recent study on social learning, by Patricia Kuhl, a University of Washington professor.  After studying bilingual Japanese-English speakers, the researchers concluded that brains of bilingual speakers are constantly adapting and reshuffling data as they translate. “Bilingual people aren’t cognitively smarter, but they are more cognitively flexible,” Kuhl explains. “Practice at constant switching improves an aspect of their cognitive abilities. They become more facile at adjusting to new situations and inventing new situations.” According to the researchers, this cognitive flexibility is much like what people do when they’re updating their Twitter status, instant-messaging friends, or answering text messages and emails, while they’re doing something else. Dr. Kuhl said this multitasking, where people are stimulating new patterns of sequential processing, could then reap the same benefits as bilingualism.
  • Psychologist: Facebook Makes You Smarter, Twitter Makes You Dumber: Twitter and Facebook are very different beasts when it comes to improving your “working memory,” which relates to “the structures and processes used for temporarily storing and manipulating information in short-term memory.” Dr. Alloway has developed a working memory training program for children, aged 11 to 14 at a school in Durham, and she found out that Facebook did wonders for working memory, improving the kids’ IQ scores, while YouTube and Twitter’s steady stream of information was not healthy for working memory. Also, playing video games, especially those that involve planning and strategy, can also be beneficial.
  • Online Risks: from Cancer to Autism? Susan Greenfield, the eminent neuroscientist and head of the Royal Institution, is the latest to weigh into an ongoing debate, warning that young people’s brains may be fundamentally altered by internet activity. “While concerns about children and computers have usually focused on their forging inappropriate relationships online, or failing to get enough exercise as a result of being glued to a screen, Greenfield suggested the consequences may be more profound.” “She explained it would be worth considering whether the rise in autism – a condition marked by difficulties forming attachments – was linked to the increasing prevalence of screen relationships.”
  • Social Websites: Bad for Kids’ Brains? Dr Aric Sigman has claimed that sites such as Facebook and Bebo could harm people’s health. He joins Jeremy Paxman and Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and the Guardian column of the same name, to discuss Susan Greenfield’s claims.
  • Mind Games: Many brands have devised games that specifically aim to develop mental agility in people of all ages. It is not just older people who are being targeted. The education system has long been aware of the potential use of computer games and a survey last year suggested about a third of teachers used gaming in the classroom, to sharpen motor and cognitive skills. Research done on animals has linked stimulation from visual tasks to the strengthening of neuron connections in the brain, says Professor David Moore, the neuroscientist who founded MindWeavers. Stronger connections between neurons have not been demonstrated directly in humans because a test would require putting an electrode into the brain, he says, but neuro-imaging of whole human brains shows activity in the same areas when people play these games.

Social Learning in the Classroom and WorkPlace

  • Twenty-Seven Interesting Ways to use Twitter in the Classroom: Tom Barrett provides innovative ways to use Twitter in the classroom. (Check out his professional blog, ICT in my Classroom, on using educational technology in the classroom.)
  • Learning Gets Social: According to Tony Bingham, a recent survey on informal learning shows that 36 percent of surveyed organizations dedicate no money to informal learning, and 78 percent dedicate 10 percent or less of the training budget to it. Bingham notes that between 70 and 90 percent of learning occurring in organizations is informal, but most of the money is allocated to formal learning. “This must change if we are to be successful in the future,” he cautions.
  • Informal Learning Reading List: The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies provides helpful resources for implementing Informal Learning 2.0 in the workplace.

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