Online students initiate informal learning practices using social tools


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Authors: Anna Rubio Carbó, NÚRIA SERRAT
Various informal learning processes were developed during a course at the IL3-UB, when participants engaged in numerous out-of-class communication and exchange activities. This study aims to determine students’ perceptions of what they learned and investigate their transference of Web 2.0 learning to the workplace. Preliminary conclusions are presented.

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Online students initiate informal learning practices using social tools

  1. 1. From the field Online students initiate informal learning practices using social toolsAuthors Various informal learning processes were developed during a course at the IL3-UB, when participants engaged in numerous out-of-class communication and exchange ac-Anna Rubio Carbó tivities. This study aims to determine students’ perceptions of what they learned andInformation Head of investigate their transference of Web 2.0 learning to the workplace. Preliminary conclu-Innovation Department,IL3-UB, Institute for Lifelong sions are presented.Learning, University ofBarcelona, 1. Background to the researchNúria Serrat Antolí In the current process of redefining the university1, learning strategies from outside theLecturer, Department of classroom and beyond university studies have become an important cause to defend (Hin-Didactics and EducationalOrganization, University of ton, 2009; Serrat, Rubio & Cano, 2010). This has led to the integration of informal learningBarcelona, Spain strategies into both university and further education courses (Livingston, 2000; Eraut, 2004) Concurrently, higher education and postgraduate studies have been incorporating Web 2.0 tools for constructing and sharing knowledge (Wheeler, 2009; Buchem & Hamelmann, 2011). Blending these two elements, we see that informal learning finds in Web 2.0 a broad andTags fruitful field of action (Brown & Adler, 2008). Beyond the limits of formal curricula (Living-Higher education; ston, 2000), while informal learning is generated in an implicit and unstructured way in un-networking skills; foreseen and unplanned situations (Eraut, 2004), the frequent and varied exchanges involvedknowledge transference in Web 2.0 in turn become material for further informal learning (Jokisalo & Riu, 2009). In this context, the University of Barcelona Institute for Lifelong Learning (IL3-UB) offers on- line and face-to-face masters and courses with a professional orientation. It is firmly commit- ted to the development of lifelong learning strategies. Thus, apart from using Moodle as an LMS to support learning, other Web 2.0 elements are used to foster students’ personal and professional development. During the last academic year (2010-11), one particular group caught our attention. On the Community Management and Social Media postgraduate course the participants carried out, apart from teacher-set tasks, numerous out-of-class communication and information exchange activities. These were Web 2.0 exchanges defined by the students themselves: no one planned, guided or assessed them. Unprompted, and from the very beginning, students shared a hash tag on Twitter, became highly active users of a Facebook group, joined LinkedIn and created a blog and online newspaper to keep in touch and share news on Community Management tasks. If achieving objectives on the postgraduate course involved learning how to use these tools as internet communication strategies, these students were learning the tools at the same 1 eLearning Papers, 24 ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • www.elearningpapers.eueL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011Pap www 1
  2. 2. From the fieldtime as using them for informal learning purposes. Which ones 3. Some preliminary results andwere students most actively using? And for what purpose? conclusionsThough this is only a single group, and thus not a significant Although we are currently, in September 2011, still analysingsample of the IL3-UB student body, we were interested in find- the results in depth, we present here some preliminary conclu-ing out what type of activities these students had autonomous- developed, to what point these activities had led them to de-velop informal learning strategies, and what their opinions of Concerning the tools most frequently used, we can concludethese strategies were. that the students did not access the Moodle classroom as fre- quently as is normal on such courses, although they were aware of what was happening there. Messages inside the LMS were2. Aims of the study and methodology limited to course activities, adopting a more formal and aca- utilized demic style. Social networks –mainly Facebook, LinkedIn andWith these reflections in mind we designed a study with three Twitter– were used as natural extensions of the classroom andmain aims: as natural sites of learning. a) To find out what uses were made of which social tools Facebook was by far the most popular meeting point. Principally (when related to the course contents). students –but also teachers– shared materials of general inter- b) To determine students’ perceptions both of what they est (congresses, complementary training, work vacancies, etc) gained from the group and of their partners’ contribu- or related to the course modules (documents, presentations, tions. videos), and discussed and evaluated their own and other com- munity members’ publications. Nearly two months after the c) To determine whether they transferred to the workplace course, it is still a much-used social space for both students and what they had learnt from the social tools. teachers.Our sample focused on the 84 students on the above-mentionedpostgraduate course. The sample was interesting for the study Surprisingly, aside from informal exchanges, formal conversa-not only because of its technophile pro-social tools profile, but tions also took place on Twitter. For example, there students ex-also because the average age was around 35, which meant that changed links from course modules, asked questions to ensuremany students worked in areas closely related to the course correct understanding of wording in activity instructions, andcontents and showed an interest in keeping up-to-date and in organized social events and group attendance at lectures.developing useful strategies for continuing post-course learn- Concerning the subjects students discussed in the networks,ing. Moreover, the spirit of the group was participative, highly we can conclude that all subjects were treated. Technical, pro-productive, and critical with regard to technology use. fessional, academic and even juridical questions were discussedWe used four different information-gathering instruments dur- on Facebook. Those conversations that would normally arise oning the study. A map of tools was drawn up to see which social Moodle –as they concerned specific subject matter and issues–tools students used and for what purposes; a student ques- in this case began on the network.tionnaire was designed to determine whether the role of the Outside the Moodle classroom, students engaged in three typestools changed during the course and if students were aware of of exchange. Mainly they exchanged information resources, butwhat they had learned through them; a content analysis of the they also solved academic, technological and course contentmessages they produced was made in order to categorize the problems. Also they shared new ideas, for example projectsnuclei of meaning and compare the perceptions verbalized in such as creating a newspaper or starting up a company.the questionnaire with those expressed in the messages; finallyan interview with selected students was devised to determine While we expected that they would exchange personal reflec-whether they were aware of what they had learned from the so- tions, these were scarce. They exchanged very few solutionscial networks, how they assessed this, and to what extent they from or reflections on their own professional experience, trickstransferred it to their working places. and strategies. ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • eL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011 Pap www 2
  3. 3. From the fieldConcerning the usefulness of what they had learned, students Acknowledgementsstated that their social-network-based learning was positively We would like to thank the students on the first program of theuseful for transference to present or future workplaces. Thus, IL3-UB Community Management & Social Media Postgraduatethey felt that the learning generated through using social tools Course, and Haridian de Aysa, Carlos Roa and Antonio Martinez,was useful in complementing course contents: for example they for their willing and proactive work.broadened and complemented their conceptual knowledge,they engaged in personal and professional networking, andthey familiarized themselves with technologies they had notpreviously used. Many of their responses suggested that thestudents saw social network interactions as useful for their con-tinuing development, as sources of information, and as spacesfor problem solving.However, other questions arise. Despite stating that their learn-ing from social web tools was useful for the workplace, studentswere mainly referring here to conceptual learning. They did notperceive this learning in terms of work skills, professional reflec-tions or direct applicability at work. Thus we wonder whetherthey were simply not aware of these latter aspects or whetherthey had not learned anything in this respect.Although our main conclusions would encourage us to use so-cial tools as sites of both formal and informal learning, blendingthese learning processes naturally outside the Moodle class-room, several further questions emerge. Should we promoteinformal learning, providing new tools for students to shareknowledge? Would providing these tools be enough to enrichtheir experience? Or should we take a further step, and ac-company students’ informal learning processes with makingthe skills acquired explicit? This would help students to makethe most of their informal learning processes, but would alsorequire us to define intentional processes of informal learning,thereby establishing a closer bond between formal and informallearning. ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • eL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011 Pap www 3
  4. 4. From the fieldReferences Hall, R. (2009). “Towards a fusion of formal and informal learning environments: The impact of the read/write web”. Electronic JournalBrown, J.S.; Adler, R.P. (2008), “Minds of Fire: Open education, of e-Learning. 7 (1), 29 - 40. Retrieved from Long Tail, and Learning 2.0”. EDUCAUSE Review, 43, 1. download.html?idArticle=81Buchem, I.; Hamelmann, H. (2011). “Developing 21st century Hinton, J. (2009). “Lifelong Learning: Effective Adult Learningskills: Web 2.0 in Higher Education – A case study”. eLearning Strategies and Implementation for Working Professionals”. ThePapers, 24, 1-5. International Journal of Learning 16:1, 1-14.Livingstone, D. W. (2007). Re-exploring the icebergs of adult Jokisalo, E.; Riu, A. (2009), “Informal learning in the era of Weblearning: comparative findings of the 1998 and 2004 Canadian 2.0”. eLearning Papers. Retrieved from: http://www.elearningeu-surveys of formal and informal learning practices. The Canadian for the Study of Adult Education, 20 (2), 1-24. Serrat, N.; Cano, E.; Rubio, A. (2010), “Learning Self-reg-Clough, G; Jones, A.C; McAndrew, P; Scanlon, E. (2009) ulation competences in Higher Education by using ICT”. TheInformal Learning Evidence in Online Communities of Mobile International Journal of Learning 17 (11), p. 1-20.Device Enthusiasts. At Ally, M. Mobile Learning Transforming theDelivery of Education and Training. Edmonton: AU Press, Atha- Wheeler, S. (2009). “Learning Space Mashups: Combining Webbasca University, p 99-112. 2.0 Tools to Create Collaborative and Reflective Learning Spaces” Future Internet, 1, pp. 3-13, Retrieved April 22, 2011 from http://Eraut, M. (2004). ‘Informal learning in the workplace’, Studies in Education, 26:2, 247 – 273. Edition and production Name of the publication: eLearning Papers Copyrights ISSN: 1887-1542 The texts published in this journal, unless otherwise indicated, are subject Publisher: to a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivativeWorks Edited by: P.A.U. Education, S.L. 3.0 Unported licence. They may be copied, distributed and broadcast pro- Postal address: c/Muntaner 262, 3r, 08021 Barcelona (Spain) vided that the author and the e-journal that publishes them, eLearning Phone: +34 933 670 400 Papers, are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted. Email: The full licence can be consulted on Internet: es/by-nc-nd/3.0/ ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • www.elearningpapers.eueL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011Pap www 4