Online learning hinges not only on the relationship between students and teachers, but between the students and greater society at large. After all, we all benefit in a collective manner when people add skills and knowledge to their behavioural repertoire.
Social learning describes the learning connection between learners and their surroundings, which includes peers, mentors, and the learning platform itself.
Observational learning lies at the heart of social learning, and this means that educational content is not confined to the parameters of the learning platform. Rather, the learning space is extended to almost every facet of the learner’s life, including the observed behaviors of other students. This is an exciting space to be designing learning in, providing you have an online learning platform that can accommodate it. myQuest is a good example of such a platform.
Real time teaching and social learning can, thanks to technology, be directly implemented into any online course. More design effort is required to ensure that the learner remains fully engaged and that's where experienced instructional designers are required to apply learning science and creativity. Social learning is one of the most effective ways to achieve high impact change through learning, and this can be facilitated through collaborative learning activities and students working together towards cooperative learning experiences online.
Social Learning Theory
Albert Bandura first coined the term ‘social learning’, although a more appropriate description of the concept would be “social cognitive theory”. Bandura’s idea that “lessons” exist amongst social interactions has become a largely accepted trend in modern pedagogy.
The power of social learning has illuminated the importance of listening, feedback and open dialogue in learning, strengthening the observation that learning is inextricable from daily interpersonal practice (Hrastinski, 2009).
Social learning trends have long been recognised in nature: predators and prey hardly require classrooms to teach them how to hunt and survive. Instead, these vital lessons are absorbed from the observed behaviours of other members of the species (Franz and Nunn, 2009).
Observing the successes and failings of peers cuts down on the need for every learner to experience trial and error. Moreover, a strong feeling of participating in social learning transforms the learner’s relationship with the learning content and fosters a greater sense of identity and social presence (Jaber and Kennedy, 2017).
Applying Social Learning to the Online Space
Online spaces have shown the power and possibility of providing opportunities for social learning. For example, Duceneaut and Moore studied the prevalence of social learning in massively multiplayer online role playing games (‘MMORPGs’).
Despite education not being the primary concern of MMORPGs, these games still generate social learning by requiring players to interact amongst each other to achieve common goals. Players are required to organise themselves into small groups, with each member fulfilling a unique role.
While possible, it is not feasible to succeed in these games as a solo player. As such, players needed to develop the requisite social skills to not only form or join a group, but to effectively utilise the game’s mechanics to their best possible advantage. Newer players learned from more experienced veterans, not through lengthy lectures, but rather through the acts of doing and belonging together. This is the thinking we need to apply to social learning outside of gaming as well.
A pertinent takeaway from the study of player interactions in MMORPGS is the fact that learners will, if possible, initiate and seek to socialise with one another in an effort to improve their individual learning experiences.
Hratinski points out that the learner’s experience of learning is more important than the simple transfer of rote methods and terminology. We all know this, but we need to actively work with skilled instructional designers and high quality learning platforms to get this right.
Participation is the vital catalyst for online social learning, and should be the focal point of any online lesson plan looking to maximise the learning potential of each individual student. This is best achieved through collaborative learning processes. In these processes, the ultimate goal is less about the quality of the final product but rather the cooperation which is needed to integrate new behaviours and new results,
Online Social Learning in Practice
Learning management systems (‘LMS’) and social media have become valuable tools in enhancing participation in the online learning environment. When used correctly, these learning tools can help create the social support needed to truly inspire social learning in an online, digital context (Greenhow, 2011).
The greatest barrier to implementing online social learning is a lack of good instructional designers, designers who do not include gamification or micro-gamification and the lack of software complexity available.
Hustad and Artzen state that skepticism often stifles innovation regarding social learning in the online space. Furthermore, the authors mention this reluctance to embrace social media and LMS prevents learning designers from utilising the functionalities of these technologies.
These functionalities often lead to greater collaboration and interaction amongst the learners, which are two key ingredients for successful social learning. Fortunately, myQuest enthusiastically embraces the social aspect of online social learning in how we utilize our LMS.
The myQuest learning platform adopts the best practice of combining an LMS with social media features. Raspopovic et al in their study showed that simple features such as “liking” and “sharing” functions encouraged learners to participate in their learning outside of the regular learning hours. Whatsmore, this participation involved interacting with peers.
In myQuest you can also make use of the reflection question after a learning activity to connect the learning with the community by making reflection part of the assignment itself.
These findings concur with those of Hustad and Arntzen, who observed that by blending existing social media resources, such as Linked In, learning in the online space became more involved and engaging.
myQuest takes these observations and applies them to create an immersive and interactive LMS that aims to give the learner a strong feeling of social presence.
Written by Kirsten Garbini