Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NOT Social Networks but Learning Networks

The phenomenon that is 'social networking', is not what forward thinking educators are doing. Most young people using My Space, Twitter, and Facebook are doing so only to continue conversations held in the real world. Many of the wall-postings and text messages that form the backbone of social networks, are simply attempts to see what people are up to 'socially' rather than to engage in conversations that lead to knowledge creation.

Teacher 2.0 on the other hand, is beginning to create networks of like-minded educators intent upon learning from one another. These 'learning networks' consist similarly of information exchanges, with at least one major exception: these networks are sharing information on a range of topics of definable topics of interest to the collective.

If indeed the issue of our use of social tools is as important as Will Richardson suggests , then we need to do a better job of describing what we do! It's possible that an appropriate moniker might address some of the issues highlighted by Danah Boyd in 'The Economist' debate.

What shall we call it?

There are a number of related terms that would be more appropriate than 'social networks' to describe this type of collaborative learning: 'social learning’; or ‘learning networks’; or even ’social learning networks’, would be more appropriate terms. Any which way you slice it, the term 'learning', is conspicuous by its absence when one is describing the phenomenonal sharing taking place via blogs, wikis, tweets and other read/write tools.

Is it even new?

Building social learning networks is something many educators have done for years via email/webpal programs. (I remember doing such a program working with ten classrooms scattered across North America via a 1200 baud modem via AT&T around 1990.) The difference is that we now have access to tools that give us instant access not only to text, but to video and audio as well.

It’s too easy in using the term ’social networking’, to focus on the everyday social communication that young people participate in via Web 2.0 tools. Absent a true learning purpose, such communications are simply social dialogue. Learning networks are different, let's begin highlighting the uniqueness of our dialogue by including, even highlighting, the word learning.