Several years ago, I read a post on Terry Anderson’s blog about social media as a killer app for distance learning (I can find his paper online, but not the original blog post). The concept is important: many learners are involved in self-paced distance education and social media can help improve learner success by improving learner’s connectedness to each other. In an updated papers – Self-paced Learners Meet Social Software: An Exploration of Learners’ Attitudes, Expectations and Experience – Anderson, Poellhuber, and McKerlich document their research into the subject.
From the paper: “Research on social software interventions in self-paced learning is meager…sociability, defined as the extent to which a networked environment is perceived to be able to facilitate the emergence of a sound social space with attributes such as trust and belonging, a strong sense of community, and support for quality working relationships…This research revealed that students in self-paced programs are very eclectic in their interest in using social software tools in distance education programming and their experience and expertise with these tools.”
The paper details how distance learning students rank traditional information provision tools (video lectures, podcasts) higher than networked learning tools like blogs, Twitter, etc. How much of this is due to the previous experiences of learners? If learners are used to lectures in physical classrooms, it makes sense that they will be more comfortable with information broadcast digital tools. As follow up research, it would be interesting to explore how learners change in their view of networked learning (and accompanying tools) after they’ve taken a course based on the model. New tools and lack of use could be a commentary on “newness” not “effectiveness”.