ONLINE LEARNING COMMUNITIES AND SOCIAL SOFTWARE: A MENTORING APPROACH TO 21ST CENTURY SKILLS
University of Salford (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN09 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Conference name: 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2009
Location: Barcelona ,Spain
Abstract:Since the arrival of what is commonly referred to as Web 2.0, social software platforms and social networking technologies have become part of the learning landscape both for those who learn formally within institutions, and for those who learn informally via emergent web-based learning communities. The challenges to traditional educational roles and structures are keenly felt by many learners and tutors; the teacher is no longer necessarily the sole authority, as learners can access many (often contrasting) well-informed viewpoints online. For the learner, there are real challenges in terms of navigating online information sources, both in terms of the amount of information available, and the reliability/authority of that information.
In order to address these new challenges, the role of the teacher has undergone a fundamental shift. It is no longer enough to be a purveyor of knowledge; the teacher must also act as a facilitator who guides the learner through their learning journey, helping them to negotiate information along the way. This social constructivist pedagogy has a democratizing influence in terms of valuing informal learning and both independent and peer learning, as these are seen as being core aspects of lifelong learning and learning to learn. As learning collaboratively online becomes increasingly predominant, new skills in communication and collaboration are required in order to use new technologies effectively, develop real digital literacy and 21st century skills.
It is against this backdrop that the EU-funded VITAE partnership (www.eu-vitae.com) came together to develop a blended course which effectively trains vocational trainers in the use of Web 2.0, taking an intercultural, mentoring approach. Mentoring as a teaching/learning approach is key to the project, as it is believed that a focus on learner-centred knowledge construction and the social aspects of the learning process are vital for trainers in the use of Web 2.0 who are themselves learning new skills in terms of digital literacies and technologies, in order to pass on those skills to others. A range of learning and mentoring activities have been implemented through a series of pilots across four countries, using a variety of social networking and social software platforms through an interative cycle of course development. Data has been collected from each pilot, highlighting commonalities and differences, issues and factors for consideration.
We describe the tensions between the provision of an overarching Web 2.0 course template on one hand, and allowing for individual needs and/or training requirements on the other, exploring the link to learner motivation. We also consider taking the ‘breadth vs. depth’ approach, again linking this to the need of the individual while discussing personalized, learner-centred, flexible modes of delivery, asking whether these are in fact more suited to those with some degree of techno-literacy and experience. Finally, we explore benefits and drawbacks of group vs. individual learning pathways, before summarizing our next steps and a series of challenges.
Keywords: innovation, 21.