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Connected (Part 1)

October 18, 2009

For some time now, I’ve been pondering the idea of learning through social media. Specifically, the acquirement of knowledge through connecting with either peers or experts and the self-organising aka exploring abilities of learners. When talking about this, we usually (subconsciously) only refer to a younger target learner audience.

This stems from myths surrounding older learners. They’re digitally non-savvy and unwilling to embark on new projects. Adding to this, they miss an exploring mind and a curious attitude. That’s one reason. The second reason is the older learners themselves. Either passively resigning to these myths or via rigidness, proving these myths to be true.

This piece is the first of a three part series on (informal) learning using social media. It’s directed at the older learner and discusses a possible strategy of deployment.

Getting connected: the basics

By chance —yes, I know. There’s no such thing— I stumbled upon two great articles recently. What I learned about e-Learning from the Masterchief by Rick Maranta on his Pinched Head Blog and Going Old School, a piece by Paris Achen, Mail Tribune.

The first is about the author aka ‘an older learner’ getting to grips with his own blatant restrictions versus his son’s agile learning (gaming) abilities. The second article talks about bringing back a traditional form of learning, by introducing it in a ‘new’ format: the one-room schoolhouse.

At first glance the learning methods described in these two articles couldn’t have been further apart. But taking a second closer look, you see that both present a practical execution of an abstract educational concept: social connectivism. In both cases the participants first connect with each other and then acquire knowledge by means of this connection.

Learning through coaching

In the piece Old wine — new bottles, I spoke of motivating the older learner through engagement. I encouraged doing this by using the method of: acknowledgement, building a supportive learning environment and (peer-to-peer) coaching.

The last method borders close to the ones described in the two articles. Simply, by being connected, either virtually or live in a classroom, the learners naturally coach each other on subjects they’ve gained expertise in.

Characteristically, when the right environment and conditions are created, learners tend to group themselves and support each other. You can read an example of this in Learners teach thyself (featuring a video of the project a Hole in the wall).

Free to explore

Finally, it’s about trusting the learner’s ability in finding his way around the learning environment. As it happens, I discussed this the other day with a co-developer for a course we’re doing. It’s a sales course, targeted at an audience aged 20 to 30, mostly male and of a mid-level education.

I wanted to let the learner explore; she wanted to guide them. Her fear being learners losing the thread of the course, on account of us giving them too many possibilities. And thus resulting in them quitting. As it’s a team effort, we comprised on a solution that would work for us both and the course.

In my teaching days, like my colleague, I believed it to be the duty of the educator to always present the student with a framework. However, with the growing popularity of and hereby also familiarity with social media, I feel my outlook changing. I’m leaning more and more towards the idea of giving learners room to explore and a minimum set of guidance.

In both articles, this exact method is presented to the learners. Those who need to stretch their boundaries are given room to explore. And those who need guidance are given a framework. Thus creating a type of learning that can suit different personal learning styles.

Connect, Coach and Explore

In summarising the above, these two articles are depictions of cases, where the use of informal learning works for the learner. Combining this knowledge with the use of social media, we can deploy this as follows for the older learner:
#1. Connect. Build ‘older learner friendly’ online learning communities. Make it easy for them to access technical support when needed. Then make it easy for them to connect with each other.
#2. Coach. Make it easy for the older learners to group together and create their own (sub)communities. Motivate them to coach each other.
#3. Explore. Create a loose framework. The framework should guide those who need guidance and give freedom to those who need to explore.

If we adhere to these three simple principles, we might just go a long way using informal learning aka social media targeted at the older learner. What do you think?

— Part 2 of this series will be published in the second half of the month November —

Related posts you might enjoy reading:

Connected (Part 2)
Connected (Part 3)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2009 19:51

    If there are a few people who would like to take an Art history course over the over the Internet please let me know. I am developing a course in the history of art and architecture around the world that is a stand-alone course or can be taught for a group or with a group.

    If we got together online and at the same time work out a place to meet online to talk about the micro lessons.

    For your information I went back to school at the age of 70 and learned web design and then went to the Apple store and learned more.

    Here’s the site It’s still under construction. If we get a small group together we may find that we all want to work on some of the micro lessons together.

    So lifelong learners let’s get started! And I can talk to you using Skype no matter what country you are living in!


    • October 31, 2009 23:36

      Dear Katherine,
      You’re the perfect example of a Lifelong learner.
      I love your enthusiasm.

      Greetings, Evita


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