Social media a tool for connecting formal and informal learning

Social Media Use

The increasing adoption of mobile devices facilitated by the accumulative acceptance of “social networks” (far beyond the Facebook world) is becoming characteristic of modern societies.  A recent study (conducted  by Telefonica Foundation on the 5 continents) indicates that Millennials (people between 18-30 years all) are online an average of 6 hours per day. That figure is equivalent to 168 hours per month or 84 days per year. In other words, young people spend 2.8 months a year online. These figures not only reflect the relevance of digital technologies in everyday life but also indicate a potential changing pattern in the way people communicate and share information with each other.

In a similar way that the boundaries between being off and online are becoming increasingly blurred, the distinctions between using social media for personal or professional use is becoming less clearly defined. In that sense, the ongoing use of social media has growing relevance and importance for everyday and lifelong learning practices.

For instance, the British National Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS) shows that internet is progressively becoming a key source of information. Interestingly, one of the more evident changes during the last decade or so can be observed in the accumulative volume of online self or informal learning activities such as: finding or checking a fact or looking up a definition of a word, followed by investigating topics of personal interest.

Despite the notable interest in open learning practices such as the massive open online courses (MOOCS), it could be argued that ‘online learning’ is becoming an everyday life activity. To what extent are people aware of these micro but continuous informal learning practices (such as watching a lecture, reading an e-book, translating contents, discussing the result of a survey or criticising a theory via forums, chatrooms or blogs)?

Digital companies such as LinkedIn, the Mozilla foundations or are promoting all sort of online badges aimed to bring visibility and recognition to some of these informal learning activities. It is still to be explored if some of these ‘soft skills’ will be recognised by the employment sector.

Additionally, from the formal education and training point of view, it will be interesting to see how social media is embedded into formal and non-formal learning practices. The adoption of new ways of using social media provides plenty of opportunities to enhance the access to formal education resource. At the same time, social media offer novel possibilities in order to expand and diversify the learning opportunities. Samples of the latter are: Open Badges, ED TED, Khan Academy community, Coursera Meetup, a few others are described at Open Michigan, etc.

Important contributions in this field can be learned from people like Zane Berge (UMBC), Neil Selwyn (Institute of Education, University of London), Sebastian Thrun (Stanford University and Udacity) or Keri Facer (Education and Social Research Institute at the Manchester Metropolitan University).