I have now spent over six months as an Instructional Designer, but I feel that the learning curve has far from reached its peak. This week I have been thinking about how we learn from other people, something I have definitely done during my six months at Logicearth. In the eLearning industry, they call this social learning.
Social learning is vital for development
When I was 16 I began studying for my English Language A level. I was shown one case study which gave a solid argument for the latter in the ‘Nature vs. Nurture’ debate. In the 1970s a little girl in the U.S., known as Genie, had been horrifically abused - so much so that she was never spoken to during the critical period in which linguists suggest language must be acquired. You can read more about her story here. Genie was rescued at the age of 13, but linguistic researchers discovered that, while she began to mimic speech sounds and learned how to communicate, she never fully learned a ‘language.’
The story is both fascinating and heart breaking, but most importantly to me it shows how crucial we are to one another when it comes to learning and developing. Even ignoring more complex skills that we are taught by others, such as playing an instrument or riding a bike, without watching and learning from other people we might have no idea what foods are safe to eat or how to play safely as children.
I think we continue to develop from the influence of others, although maybe to a lesser extent, into adulthood. As a former Journalism student, I’d argue that there is something to be said for the ‘Wisdom of crowds’ theory. Journalist James Suroweicki suggested at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference in 2005 that when writing stories it is best to keep yourself exposed to as many diverse sources of information as possible in order to keep in tune with all the complicated events of the world as well as hone in on what you want to deliver to your reader.
Designing eLearning branching scenarios
I think that certain types of eLearning reflect this need for social learning. For example, recently I was working on a branch scenario for a course and was tempted in my feedback to ‘feed’ the learner the information they needed. I was shown, helpfully enough for this blog, by another colleague that a better way to do it was to enter into a kind of ‘conversation’ with the learner. Rather than tell them “that’s wrong, do it like this,” try saying, “I can see why you thought that, but there’s a better solution if you consider this, can you think of it now?” Rather than pushing an unknown fact onto the learner, you are pulling out the tacit knowledge surrounding that fact, allowing them to come to a realisation by themselves.
Even the industry of eLearning is in a constant conversation with itself online, with blogs, tutorials and published research into how to make learning more effective. This has been extremely beneficial to me, as an apprentice. I’ve been able to pick up so much about the industry from reading about other people’s successes and failures, as well as from having conversations with my colleagues about their own past experiences.
Getting to real social learning in eLearning
The idea of social learning can be integrated into eLearning courses through branch scenarios and an emphasis on pulling rather than pushing information. It can also be done by encouraging a ‘conversation culture’ surrounding eLearning courses, for example, asking a question with no definite answer giving learners the opportunity to discuss it with other people that have taken the course. Involving social media could be another way to add communication into the learning experience. In theory, it would be easy enough to create a Facebook group for a particular issue in the course that needs to be drawn attention to, inviting learners to share what they are struggling with. In this way learners could create their own content from which instructional designers could then take inspiration, and the learning circle would be complete.