Lower Barriers in Social Media, Lower Barriers to Learning

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Critics, enthusiasts, and followers of social media have often pointed out social media’s lower barriers to entry compared to traditional media—it is precisely these lower barriers to entry that have made social media tools a compelling vehicle for educational technology.

In a recent post, Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web profiles Elgg.net with Technical Director Ben Werdmuller and Project Director Dave Tosh. Tosh says that Elgg provides an informal online space that lets learners exercise their own reflections and create communities around similar interests by providing a “learning landscape” through a hybrid set of social media tools, including weblogs, file repositories with podcasting capabilities, online profiles, RSS readers, and tagging. It’s interesting to see who in the education space have used Elgg and how. The founders of Elgg recognize that learning is a shared endeavor, and social media can help enhance engagement.

So how do lower barriers to entry factor into all of this? A few thoughts:

1) Putting something together like Elgg is no walk in the park—a lot of time and resources need to be invested in architecting a full educational software suite that meets needs, and is robust enough to be integrated into different learning processes. Nonetheless, blogging and podcasting tools have traditionally been simple, and at the very fundamental level, sufficiently easy to implement. This is important for a space like education software, with fewer resources, fewer multimillion-dollar investments, fewer dedicated players, and much nonprofit/bootstrapping/open source work abound. Developers don’t have to spend lots of money building systems from scratch. Imagine also the possibilities for education technologists in resource-strapped developing nations and what they could do to produce homegrown, locally tailored education software.

2) Blogging and podcasting—as online activities—are hopefully simple enough to do (produce and post) so as to appeal to educators and students of different walks of tech-savvy-ness. In different areas of the world however, sometimes it takes videos like the one at Kiva to put notions of supposed accessibility and simplicity in perspective.

3) “Lower barriers to entry” doesn’t just apply from a tech or tech-savvy standpoint, but also from the perspective of content style. Blogs and podcasts are often informal and stream-of-consciousness, and the barriers of writing a blog or recording a podcast are low in terms of style and formality. Liberated from the traditional obstacles of academic production, knowledge transmission could well happen more quickly. For the purpose of knowledge sharing and learning, writing a blog or recording a podcast is probably less daunting than writing a full-blown 15-page “paper” or “thesis” or “presentation.”

I’m tremendously excited to find out more about how podcasting and social media are used in education. Feel free to share your comments on social media and education, and perhaps how you’ve seen podcasting used in classrooms.

–Min Li Chan

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