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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Social Networks

The first week of our Free - Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals is wrapping up. This week we looked at Social Networks. Here are some thoughts on this topic, especially thoughts around social networks for learning.

Starting with Social Networking was a blessing and a curse. Social networks have a tendency to be a bit messy. Virginia Yonkers told us -
I would like to know how to manage the information flows in social networks. I have been part of Ning groups before, but find it overwhelming, very quickly because there seems to be multiple inputs for information. It sort of feels like a classroom with too much noise and side conversations. As a teacher, we learn how to manage that. As a student we learn how to ignore the chatter. How do we do this in the social network environment?
And, I think that the course fell right into this trap. Even as an organizer, when I get into the Ning group, I feel overwhelmed. Maybe this is partly design, but it's also how conversation, content spread across social networks.

Still, if I ask, what would I want to have helped learning professionals to know at a base level around social networks and their relationship to learning:
  1. What's a social network and what do users do in social networks? Common elements such as Profiles, Discussions, Friends, Groups.
  2. How do social networks relate to personal learning?
  3. How do social networks relate to formal learning?
I think we likely did okay on these topics, even if people (including me) felt a bit lost at times. The fact that we used a social networking tool meant that you somewhat had to get some feel for using a social network. And the messiness is somewhat part of the experience. The personal learning aspect was maybe not as strongly experienced, but some of the discussion and tools brought this home. And I think it's very interesting to see a formal learning experience using a social network teaching about using a social network for formal learning. Yes, it's only one example and hopefully people thought about lots of others as part of it. So, while it might be a bit messy, I feel like we did pretty well with the core of what we were going after.

The questions at the start of the week were fantastic. We likely could have spent all our time just answering those. Of course, that would lead to even worse scattering. Here were some of the questions people had along with some thoughts -
How do people currently use social networks in their professional lives? Are there any particular ways participants currently use social networks for training and educational purposes? Is it advantageous to you or just 'techno-fluff'?
I discussed part of this in my recent screencasts LinkedIn for Finding Expertise and Searching for Expertise - LinkedIn Answers. Certainly, the conversations and the finding of expertise via social networks such as LinkedIn is a big part of their use. There was some really good discussion (but less than I expected) on Using Social Networks with Learners. I really expected more conversation about Social Learning. Most often it's not the normal Social Networks that are getting used, but rather other kinds of targeted networks. The resources that were provided on this are great:
Another set of questions ...
I too would like to learn how people use social networking professionally. What’s the time commitment for the average user? How do people manage the multiple networks?
There was a forum on Manging Your Social Networks and the Time Commitment with some good thoughts on this question.

Another question / comment ...
I don't know about ning or even facebook. Here in Brazil, people are more familiar with Orkut or Myspace. Some teachers here use Orkut to teach English or to get in touch with other professionals to share ideas, lesson plans and so on. But what disapoint me is the fact that some schools, educational institutions don't allow the use of social networks in info labs. Is this a problem which happens only here in Brazil or not?
I hate to say it, it's a problem everywhere - according to the eLearningGuild's surveys schools block these sites and corporations block access to web 2.0 tools.

Conversation included LinkedIn, Ning, MySpace, Orkut, PLE, Plurk, Utterli, Twitter, Elgg, Xing, Edmoto, wow, there are a lot of these things to consider.

As I'm writing this summary and looking back at the conversations (I'm barely scratching the surface here), this really has been a fantastic week of learning.

Looking forward to next week's topic - Social Bookmarking.

By the way, you can join the course at any time. There are 582 members right now, but the traffic statistics indicate that we may have some lurkers in addition to the core group.

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