As a learner, participation in NGL was not useful for me but I now know why!
Networked learning, as defined by Goodyear et al. (2004) is “learning in which information and communications technology (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources.”
Using this lens to evaluate myself as a learner, through our ‘Learning anything’ project, I can only conclude that that Networked and Global Learning (NGL) did not greatly assist in the completion of my project. The fault, however, does not lie with NGL. In completing the project, I relied more heavily on the learning resources that I was able to locate—as evident in my blog posts Me as a Learner – Take 2 and Foci – Learner Project Update—rather than through direct connection with other learners, tutors or communities. Perhaps this was due in part to my lack of understanding of what NGL entailed at the beginning of this course and my resorting to more familiar pathways of learning. My learning therefore occurred largely in isolation and, through what I have now come to realise, are passive exchanges and passive consumption of information. With the benefit of hindsight and a greater understanding of NGL I now see the value of this approach to learning, although it remains somewhat out of my own comfort zone. In an effort to better reflect what I have learned about NGL through this process, I have endeavoured to explore the nature of my project, focussing my NGL lens on my own personal learning network (PLN), so as to better understand the results that were achieved through this project’s implementation, with particular focus on social media. The results have not only given me a better understanding into the outcome of the project but, perhaps more importantly, they have provided me with some valuable insights as to how I might look to improve my own approach to networked and global learning opportunities in the future.
The unexpected learnings from my NGL project
Until just over ten years ago, many of the companies that have become synonymous with the term ‘social media’ did not exist. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, for example, all have their start-up dates post-2004. Yet Australians seem to be turning to social media in rapidly increasing numbers as these figures from SocialMediaNews.com attest.
To put this into perspective, Australia’s current Facebook population represents approximately 59% of its total population (Murton, 2014). Furthermore, Statista (2014) reports, that in the second quarter of 2014, there were 1,317 million active monthly Facebook users worldwide. Which means in June this year, for the first time Facebook surpassed the population of India (1,296 million as cited in Population Reference Bureau, 2014), making it, statistically, the second largest population in the world, second only to China. It seems that it is no longer a case of if, but when, Facebook will become the world’s largest population as it quickly closes in on China’s population of 1,364 million (Population Reference Bureau, 2014). Given Facebook’s 41 million increase in users the last quarter (Statista, 2014) it may be conceivable that this could happen in next few months.
So what exactly is social media? According to Luchman, Bergstrom & Krulikowski (2014) social media is defined as “Internet communications where more than one user can publish or post information within a community of users”. Further, “social media can be divided into a number of different platforms, including social networking, publishing, photo sharing, audio sharing, video sharing, and interpersonal sites” (Will & Chan, 2014).
The popularity and appeal of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have long been an enigma to me. For my part, I have found that they can have the reverse effect, making me feel isolated and distant rather than more connected. It was this experience that led to my decision to explore social media for my ‘Learn anything’ project. I wanted to find out just how social and socially-conscious social media really was and how and if people really do connect through these platforms.
To do this I set about adapting a proven networked learning strategy which utilised the social media platform, Flickr, as shared in Week 1 of this course. The task was to encourage people to make a paper crane and share a photograph directly to the Flickr page created for this project. The second part of the project was to stagger the release of the project across various social media platforms to as to monitor the responses received thereby enabling me to draw conclusions as to the level of connectedness demonstrated in response to the set task. Details concerning the projects implementation can be found on my previous blog posts Me as a Learner – Take 2 and Foci – Learner Project Update. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I acknowledge there were many limitations to my experiment, perhaps the most significant was underestimating how difficult it was for people to actually make the paper cranes!
My personal view has always been that the interactions that take place through sites such as Facebook are quite shallow and therefore my prediction was that given the task of actually doing something to demonstrate connection, as opposed to “the lazy click of a like” (Marche, 2012) responses would be limited. As it turns out my predictions proved correct but there were some unexpected discoveries and learnings along the way which I believe provide deeper insight into the workings of social media—important takeaways concerning the relationships we develop with and within various social media platforms.
[T]housands of millions of units of information are shared every day, including short phrases, articles, photos, and audio and video clips. However, only a tiny proportion of these sharing units trigger any type of knowledge exchange that is ultimately beneficial to the users. (Will & Chan, 2014).
This quotation represented my first key learning in undertaking this project. In the noise and sheer volume of information directed through social media sites each day; how does a post/project get noticed and, perhaps more importantly, encourage a person into action? Does it just come down to an individual’s personality and willingness to help? Having examined survey results of 299 High School students, Will and Chan’s work concluded that altruism is “a key determinant of online knowledge sharing”, a result found to be consistent with previous research in this field (Eddleston & Kellermanns, 2007; Fang & Chiu, 2010 as cited in Will & Chan 2014).
Altruistic individuals refer to those who are more willing to help others. In the online social environments, altruistic users are more likely to use the social and communication technologies to keep in touch with the people important to them and use the technologies to show their care for and give help to others. (Wright & Li, 2011, p.1962 as cited in Will & Chan, 2014)
Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the results of my informal experiment, in which cranes were made and uploaded by family, friends and colleagues, and by extension their classes having learnt about the project through email and/or Facebook. In addition, only one retweet was recorded on Twitter and three responses were received through Edmodo, and even then, it was only from the Creative Arts group, no responses were received from the three other boards the project was posted to in Edmodo.
Will and Chan’s work highlighted a possible shortfall in my project design. I did not anticipate how difficult people would find it to make the cranes, receiving a number of messages from people indicating that they wish to participate but had no idea how to make a paper crane. Many accessed YouTube to help them, which is an interesting observation in itself. “[K]nowledge sharing does not necessary occur because of previous positive intentions, as there are all sorts of hurdles that can undermine the communication process…Because knowledge sharing is complicated, numerous situational factors need to be in place for it to happen” (Will & Chan, 2014). Perhaps in hindsight, assisting with a hyperlink embedding in the instructions may have helped people to navigate their own networked learning journey in constructing their crane. One thing is certain; however, in analysing the results those who did and did not choose to participate, I believe altruism did have “a direct, significant, and strong effect on online knowledge sharing behaviour” (Will & Chan, 2014) – some people are just kinder and more willing to help than others!
Weak and strong ties
Friends and followers are accumulated in large numbers within social networking sites, but I question the depth of the connections which can exist inside such networks, and surmise that this too may be a contributing factor to the resulting uptake of my project.
The work of Gilbert & Karahalios (2009) helped to better shape my understanding of the nature of the interactions that exist within social media networks explaining that it is the “[r]elationships make social media social. Yet different relationships play different roles” (Gilbert & Karahalios, 2009). Further these “[R]elationships are measured in the currency of tie strength” (Gilbert & Karahalios, 2009) and “[t]he strength of a ties is a…combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal service which chararcterize the tie” (Granovetter, 1973 as cited in Gilbert & Karahalios, 2009). Therefore, a considerable investment in both time and energy is needed in order to develop and maintain strong ties within these networks. Given that many people report having such large number of ‘friends’ on their Facebook pages, how is it possible to maintain and develop these ties given that there are only so many hours in the day? Will and Chan (2014) suggest“[B]ecause users can voluntary come and go, the structure of the online social environments tends to be maintained by weak social ties”. Yet others, such as Cameron Marlow and his colleagues at Facebook suggest that the nature of these relationships is more complex. Through their research, Marlow and his colleagues, have examined the extent to which each connection to a ‘friend’ in a person’s Facebook profile was actually used. Their findings suggest that “users who report very large numbers of friends on their profile pages (on the order of 500), the number with whom they actually communicate is generally between 10 and 20” (Marlow et al., n.d. as cited in Easley & Kleinberg, 2010). Perhaps the most interesting observation by Marlow and his team was the existence of a middle ground between strong and weak ties, what they term “passive engagement, in which one keeps up with friends by reading about them even in the absence of communication,” (Marlow et al., n.d. as cited in Easley & Kleinberg, 2010) though this number was still reported as being under 50 by the sample group.
Similar findings have been reported by Huberman, Romero, and Wu (n.d. as cited in Easley & Kleinberg, 2010) in examining the strength of relationship ties within Twitter, finding “even for users who maintain very large number of weak ties online, the number of strong ties remains relatively modest, in this case stabilising at a value below 50 even for users with over 1000 followees.”
The notion of passive engagement and consumption of content via social media suggests that, while collecting large numbers of followers or friends may be important to some, it is clear that we still seek quality in our relationships and that, as it always has, takes times and effort. In the words of Stephen Marche (2012), “[just] as your mother said, you get out only what you put in”.
This leads to the final takeaway from this ‘Learn anything’ project, engagement. As mentioned previously, my personal experience with social media has generally left me feeling increasingly disconnected. “Within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time and space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier…we live in an accelerating contradiction” (Marche, 2012). It would seem that the answer lies in the way we interact with social media.
A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that when interacting directly within friends on Facebook – whether posting messages or pictures on a wall, tagging photos or ‘liking’ things, feelings of well-being and sociability increased. But when they passively consumed content on Facebook, the opposite was true. (Grieg, 2013)
Confirming the work of Beuchot and Bullen (2005) and Brown (2001) in which they also found that “increased social presence has been found to lead to increased interaction” (as cited Lambert, 2012).
Yet it would seem many of us who claim to be participating in social media are in fact only passively engaged, which contributed significantly to what we take away from our experience. We are merely “lurkers” as Harold Jarche (2012) and Jakob Nielsen (2006) would describe us.
“In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action” (Neilsen, 2006). Scheinder (2011) suggest a revision of the model to a 70-20-10 model based on his research. More recently, Jarche (2012) indicates that findings from a BBC survey paint a slightly different picture in which
passive lurkers make up only 23% of participants; active (intense) participants have increased to 17%; and there is now an “Easy” group [60%] in the middle who, “… respond largely to the activity of others. This includes replying, ‘liking’ and rating, all activities where there’s little effort, exposure or risk.” (Jarche, 2012)
Jarche (2012) and Scheinder’s (2011) observations seem to give further consideration to the growing phenomenon of passive engagement.
Still which every way you look at it, there still remain many who are tentative about negotiating these unfamiliar waters. Given findings concerning increased feelings of isolation and depression of online participant in social media, coupled with the findings from another study Moria Burke and her team, at Carnegie Mellon University in which it was ”found that increased internet use led to a decline in communications with friends and family, and increased depression and loneliness” (Grieg, 2013). Yet again, research suggests that the more you put into your social media relationships the more you get out. However as Kristen Howerton (2013) cautions, “but we’ve got to know when to let it go”! [see time stamp 16:28-17:58]
In conclusion, while I may not have accessed and utilised NGL to its fullest in the creation and implementation of my project, given the nature of the project itself, I have come to better understand the importance of developing and maintaining relationships within the networks from which we hope to learn. Further, I have learned that the true value of social media and other platforms through which these networks can be created, lies in the mutual exchange and sharing of ideas. Passive exchanges and passive consumption of information obtain while ‘lurking’ only enable you to swim in the shallows of what NGL has to offer. This project has proven to be quite confronting and though I am not sure I am entirely comfortable within diving head first into the wave just yet, I believe that the increasing evidence I am accumulating that supports the benefits of NGL is making it feel like a much more calculated risk.
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