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Why I Cannot Abide Social Learning “Experts” And Why You Should Beware

Oh no, not another elearning expertNot a single day goes by without some fool of a social media/social learning “expert” blogging, tweeting or otherwise writing to promote the use of social media tools in classrooms. Every day I see articles (actually, blogs mostly since they require no editorial review) telling us how Twitter is a great tool for creating engagement in the classroom, or that corporate trainers MUST (must, mind you) incorporate Twitter and other social media in their work (thanks Mr. Bingham, Head of ASTD).

Now don’t get me wrong. I love technology. Have done for 20 years going back to the Apple ][ introduction and use as a learning platform (and of course, main frames). I'm active on Twitter. I'm active on Facebook. But here is the problem.

These experts push technology without having any idea or data about whether the use of social media technology actually IMPROVES LEARNING. They may say it is fun. They may say it fosters engagement. In fact they make many claims of this sort, but what's notable is what is NOT there.

Excuse me for thinking that the purpose of teaching is to help people learn, and that the only relevant criteria for evaluating any teaching method is whether it works to improve learning (all other things being equal and ethical).

Take a look at this article, entitled: How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement by Ferenstein. Browse through. Don't worry if you can't find anything about LEARNING in it. There isn't anything to find. Now, look at how many times the article has been shared. At this writing I see 3,261 tweets, which, in essence, means that 3261 people found this article interesting enough to tell others. And so the idiocy grows.

Social Learning "experts" are creating a body of work that is not relevant to the only relevant thing: Whether learning is improved. Impact? India and China aren't wasting their resources looking to use the coolest technologies. And they are eating up the economies of Western nations as a result of simply graduating better engineers and technologists.

I'll Tell You Why

Why is this? Several reasons. First, new technology always attracts people who become proponents -- even virtual addicts, who then spend their time trying to figure out what the technology can be used for, with little regard to whether this makes sense or not. If it's "cool, people try to rationalize that it's useful. That's why we get fads in education and learning.

There's another reason, a far more insidious one that links up to social media as learning tool. Many of the proponents of social media are not interested in learning outcomes at all. They have an ideological slant on learning which focuses on the process and not on the results. They don't care if learners (children or adults) actually learn and can apply the learning, and they don't measure results. They are happy if Johnny is having a good time, is empowered, has great self-esteem (even if it's based on illusion) or [insert your jargon new age words here]. They have trouble with authority. They believe everyone is equal in terms of ability.

We saw it in the sixties. It’s back now in different clothes. Scratch a social learning expert and you will find someone who has a desire to deschool the world (a la Illich), tends towards home schooling, has little understanding of how school systems work, and even less understanding of learning models from Psychology. They prefer philosophy to Psychology, and claim that you can’t measure outcomes. They are against testing for results, and think it is demeaning.

…and, they are loud, and becoming influential.

We’d better start paying attention. The media is not able to separate the junk from the realities, and you may find more and more school and corporate education funding diverted into social media technology “alternatives”. We don’t need more machines for learning. We don’t need Twitter in the classroom for more learning.

At least until these experts start showing evidence that these technologies actually improve learning, be skeptical. Be very aware.

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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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