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Social Media in Education (Part 3) – Learning

This is my last blog of the thoughts I shared at the recent Social Media in Education podcamp.  In my previous two posts, I’ve suggested that educational initiatives using Facebook et al have often failed to appreciate user behaviour or offer any genuine social value to their audience.  I end with the thought that for education providers, reach is not enough – we have to improve the learning of our users through our online schemes.

Increasing numbers of institutions are using games as an educational vehicle.  We know that games are highly attractive to many users, particularly those traditionally hard to reach groups, and we know that gameplay demonstrates all manner of learning processes.  However, it is a mistake to equate high numbers of hits with high levels of learning.

It is clear that quiz-like games are effective at assessing knowledge and good teachers can help players extract lessons and skills from games but as Professor David Buckingham reported for the Byron Report there is no empirical evidence that games per se generate transferable learning, that is learning that is valuable outside the game itself.  What that means in practice is that the ability to solve a fiendishly complex puzzle in Professor Layton doesn’t mean you’re any better equipped to solve the problem of finding your lost keys at home. Unless, unless, someone talks you through the process of what you’ve just done and forces you to reflect and describe what’s happened.

So the headline figures quoted by some organisations about ‘millions of hits’ while enviable in terms of reach, are not the whole story for educational ROI. The drive for user numbers is understandable – page impressions are easy to measure, not so with impact, change and learning.  But that’s what ultimately matters for us: we’re going to have to prove that our investment is more than marketing spend.

In our age of austerity, Education will come under intense scrutiny to prove its value for money both from funders and customer-students.  Our current government has an official antipathy to project-based, holistic approaches. It favours rote learning and a return to ‘traditional’ subjects as the means of improving educational standards.  It is already a hostile environment for initiatives that appear to be style over substance.  Add to that recent academic reports that suggest computers can be detrimental to the education of poor and disenfranchised learners, amplify those fears through the respectable mainstream press and we face a situation that could put educational uses of technology back a generation.

As someone who believes computers and the web offer unique opportunities for learning it seems that we need to raise our game if we want to exploit social media for education.

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