Social Learning Buzz Masks Deeper Dimensions, An Industry Whitepaper from the Gilfus Education Group

Mitigating the confusion surrounding “Social Learning” (Download Here)

Foreword

It is our hope that by leveraging socially based technologies the education industry can shape a new educational technology paradigm that realizes the promises of true “Social Learning”.
By understanding its applications we can create a unique opportunity to improve student engagement, student retention, academic success and overall educational outcomes.

– Stephen Gilfus, Gilfus Education Group

Introduction

While on the exhibit floor at NECC 2009 (The National Education Computing Conference) in late June in Washington, DC, I overheard an intriguing conversation about “social learning.” A very distinguished looking university professor was talking with a small group of graduate students. The professor pointed out to her younger colleagues that scores of exhibitors were promoting solutions for “social learning,” but that the vendors were misappropriating a term that had been established in the education field for a very long time.

She complained that today’s technology companies were simply cobbling together social networking tools such as blogs, wikis and bookmarking tools, pawning them off as “social learning” innovation.  As an
e-learning innovator with over a decade of experience in the education sector, this conversation reminded me that several core educational principles were not being thoughtfully considered.

 History of Social Learning

There is a century of rich literature on social learning from the fields of education, psychology, and sociology characterizing a wide variety of practical applications such as instructional techniques, consumer behavior conditioning and determining criminal motives. Most sources credit that social learning theory is based on research by the French sociologist, Gabriel Trade who lived from 1843 to 1904.

The simplest definitions of Social Learning are:

  1. The acquisition of knowledge that happens within in a social group, and
  2.  The process in which individuals observe the behavior of others and its consequences, and modify their own behavior accordingly.

As a field, social learning originated during the 1930s at Yale University. Significant contributors to social learning theory during the twentieth century listed alphabetically by last name include:

Ronald Akers, Marshall Becker, Molly Brunk, Robert Burgess, Kay Bussey,  June Chance, Pricilla Coleman, Darwin Dorr, John Dollard, Leonard Doob, Kathleen Durning, Steven Fey, Robert Hale, Scott Henggeler, Christopher Hensley, William Huitt, Clark Hull, J. Hummel, Katherine Karraker, Jean Lave, Howard Liddle, Fred McDonald, Neal Miller, Walter Mischel, O. H. Mowrer, Jerry Phares, Julian Rotter, Irwin Rosenstock, Ted Rosenthal, Dale Schunk, Robert Sears, Stephen Singer, Victor Strecher, Edwin Sutherland, Richard Walters, John Whiting, Lev Vygotsky and Barry Zimmerman. The field is so vastly rich, that the list is by no means complete.

One of today’s most prominent experts on social learning theory is Albert Bandura, a psychology professor at Stanford University since 1953, who is regarded as one of the most preeminent psychologists of all time. In 1976, he published the landmark textbook, Social Learning Theory, which is still used at many colleges today.

According to Bandura, since individuals learn best by observing others, learners are tremendously influenced by the roles models who they observe. In social learning theory there are four fundamental requirements for people to learn and model behavior:

1) attention, concentrating on the topic or task, 2) retention, remembering the information for later use often by using imagery and language, 3) reproduction, translating the imagery and language back into an action, and 4) motivation, reinforcing the behavior through rewards, punishments, incentives and repeat exposures.

 Social Learning in Practice

In 2001, I joined eSylvan, an early effort to create an online learning environment that deliberately incorporated Bandura’s four steps. eSylvan, focused on transforming the classic Sylvan Learning Center tutoring curriculum for reading, writing and math, into an online offering available via the Internet.

At a scheduled time, a group of three or more students logged into a tutoring  session from their individual schools or homes, while a teacher would log in to lead the session. The teacher and students would interact with each other via their individual PCs connected to the Internet. Each participant wore a headset for voice-over-IP technology and each used a digital pencil (stylus) and writing pad (tablet) to solve problems within an online “virtual classroom environment;” most notably a shared online whiteboard and voice conferencing.

The session was automatically populated with the proper individualized lesson for each student.  Many of the problems were of a repetitive nature so that a student could master a particular skill, before moving to the next level.

At the beginning and end of each session, students could interact with each other in an informal manner. Sometimes they discussed the current subject matter; other times they played an educational game as a group. During their interaction, the students would often end up teaching each other either something new about the current topic or about the way the eSylvan learning environment worked.

As the session continued, the teacher session from their individual schools or homes, while a teacher would log in to lead the session. The teacher and students would interact with each other via their individual PCs connected to the Internet. Each participant wore a headset for voice-over-IP technology and each used a digital pencil (stylus) and writing pad (tablet) to solve problems within an online “virtual classroom environment;” most notably a shared online whiteboard and voice conferencing.

The session was automatically populated with the proper individualized lesson for each student.  Many of the problems were of a repetitive nature so that a student could master a particular skill, before moving to the next level.

At the beginning and end of each session, students could interact with each other in an informal manner. Sometimes they discussed the current subject matter; other times they played an educational game as a group. During their interaction, the students would often end up teaching each other either something new about the current topic or about the way the eSylvan learning environment worked.

As the session continued, the teacher………………….

For the rest of this article download the white paper here: Social Learning Dimensions – Gilfus Education Group

Social Learning Dimensions