twitter learner engagement

Twitter and Learner Engagement: Education in a Sharing Economy

Teaching Online eLearning Trends Teaching Trends and Best Practices

“The so-called ‘sharing economy’ will almost certainly impact education, but what form will it take?” says Stephen Downes, a designer and commentator in the fields of online learning and new media, in one of his blog posts last month.

He discusses how education in a sharing economy impacts learning, and suggests how education should tackle this conversation with respect to learning.

Learning Management Systems Are Walled Gardens

Shifting from the notion of learning for a moment, it was W.M. Beasley who stated, “Learning Management Systems are walled gardens…There are good pedagogical reasons both for providing links that take students outside the LMS, and for bringing portions of the outside world into the LMS“, in one of his posts in 2012 on his blog ‘Digital Pedagogy Lab‘.

It’s 2016, and is a high time we now focus on the benefits and impact of a shared education system. As suggested by Downes, it is no longer predatory instead mainstream and profitable.

Good tracks are now being made. Multiple online learning platforms support a free- at the point of entry- paradigm via the OER initiative.  Yet, there remains very little research about how systems such as free software can support learning connected with the LMS, which is surprising given the LMS is used on a grand scale worldwide.

Dawn Alderson, a researcher, author and educator says, “The education industry has reached a place that calls for a hybrid approach – combining various tools together to enhance learner experience, while keeping it affordable and eliminating the constraints.”

A hybrid approach offers value addition as:

  1. There are new products on the market that support teaching and learning with regard to the learning management systems.
  2. LMS systems come packed with interesting algorithms to measure learner behaviours, which can support teachers to diagnose risk.
  3. Word clouds are included to support analysis of discussion forums, whereby the words used signal on-topic visualisation.
  4. Social network analysis affords an examination of learner relations such as, the quantity of interactions and critical thinking between learners.

Nevertheless, the absence of tracking of learner voice still makes it difficult to connect the observed behaviours and corresponding impact on the individual learner and their sense-making in terms of progression and continuity.

While it can be recognised, this is often a case of face-to-face feedback/dialogue. Educators are still working with the old way of seeing the tech systemizing the big data. They need to break it down for the learner to understand how this translates for practice in terms of impact is a fruitful area for further study.

Hybrid Pedagogy is Value-Added  

Value-added can be simply described as anything that makes up a process, which is not wasteful/or lacks impact. Therefore, when I refer to value-added free online tools for education, I cite an example of using Twitter/micro blogging with learners due to the constant feedback loop that can aid the learning process (Ebner et al., 2010 & Junco et al., 2013).

This can facilitate

  • transparency of students’ learning and working processes;
  • a constant information flow between students, posted thoughts and information pieces; and
  • learner participation with others in their thinking.

She along with her colleagues (Stuart MacDonald, Chris Hall both at Swansea University, Wales in the UK & Paul Latreille at Sheffield University, England UK) is currently disseminating research findings about the use of Twitter during lectures with final year undergraduate students.

“We worked with 117 students during lectures that spanned 22 weeks and adopted case study methodology bound by the context of student voice to enable us to dig deep in our analysis as opposed to seeking breadth with a quantitative approach”, says Alderson.

You can read an overview of the research study and outcomes here:

Nevertheless, with all Ed Tech tools, there will always be a reluctant user group who choose not to engage. There have been many instances where learners chose to email teachers rather than engaging with their LMS. And similarly there remained a small group of learners in our research who chose not to engage with Twitter.

The way forward might be to begin with

  1. Ed Tech design,
  2. Openness and collaboration
  3. Creating a global education system supported by a sharing economy – which has impact on the learner and learning.

I would want to conclude with W.M. Beasley’s words – ‘Learning Management Systems are walled gardens.There are good reasons for the learner in providing links that take students outside the LMS, and for bringing portions of the outside world into the LMS’.

The time is right.

Summary:  A hybrid pedagogy and use social media resources support education in a sharing economy and enhance learner experience and engagement. Twitter plays a crucial role in ensuring continuous flow of communication.

Dawn Alderson, a researcher, author and educator is going to present a demonstration of “Twitter and Student Engagement –  What’s the Value-Added?” on CO16 on Saturday February 5, 2016 at 5 PM EST. The number of participants is limited to ensure high quality of all sessions, so please reserve your place for the demonstration by clicking on ‘save my spot’ button.


Dawn Alderson

Dawn Alderson is an educator, researcher, author, specialist in child development and is currently focused on educational technology for enhancing learner engagement and supporting new teaching approaches.

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