aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

All A-Twitter

Posted by Ellen on January 21, 2011

Is it true that far more people initially register for Twitter than stay with it? Do you really have the number of followers you think you do?

And what does that mean for using Twitter as an element in your social learning mix?

For background:

First see Jane Knight’s post, “How do you learn from #lrnchat?”

Add some statistics.

Mix in some naysayers.

I searched for an update on this data, but couldn’t find whether the trend is continuing. Perhaps people tune in, then out, then back in again.

In any case…

What does this mean for using Twitter in social learning?

Before attempting to answer that, here’s another factor to consider: what tools and apps learners say they’ll actually use when it comes to extending their connections and communications around their elearning might not be the ones they truly use, but reflect their wishes or maybe an answer they think you want to hear.

So here’s a study of note:

Terry Anderson (Athabasca University), Bruno Poellhuber (University of Montreal) and Ross McKerlich (Centerboard Strategic Learning) have published the results of their study in the article, “Self-paced Learners Meet Social Software: An Exploration of Learners’ Attitudes, Expectations, and Experience” (you can read this report online here.

They define “social software” as tools that “include profiles, wikis, blogs, posting walls, artifact tagging, web conferencing, calendaring, and other network-based tools.”

Their study focused specifically on university students enrolled in self-paced, distance education to determine their “interest, expectation and expertise” in using social software.

The general conclusions aren’t suprising:

— “a majority are interested in using these tools to enhance their learning experiences”
— “the greater use and experience of the learners, the more they expect and desire to have educational social software used in their formal education programming.”

That should go without saying.

What you might find surprising is that 81% of the respondents (nearly evenly divided across all age groups from 16 up) ranked themselves as “beginner or having no experience using blogs…” while “some tools, such as podcasts, e-portfolios and virtual worlds had very high response rates of ‘don’t know.'” More than 55% rated themselves as intermediate, advanced, or expert users of social networks.

Even so, that means nearly *half* of respondents ranked themselves as either a beginner or someone with no familiarity at all with social networks.

Should give us all pause, don’t you think?

And when asked what their interest is in using various social software options, Twitter ranked *dead last* with just 15.7% of respondents expressing an interest in using it in their courses.

Video sharing (65.4%), Web conferencing (62%), and podcasting (56.2%) all ranked higher than social networking (50.9%), while fewer than half were interested in blogs, wikis, photo sharing, social bookmarking, e-portfolios, and Twitter.

The top three (video sharing, Web conferencing and podcasting) are all content-focused, did you notice? That tells me that students don’t want to just “chat” — they want something of substance at the heart of their online connections.

Of course, it’s possible they haven’t experienced effective use of the other tools as a part of their self-paced, online learning, which is why those options ranked lower… If your experience with something isn’t positive, you generally don’t want to do it again.

The research results also give us a look into how these self-paced online learners prefer to work cooperatively, with “41% preferring to use the Internet, 19% preferred face-to-face and 10% chose telephone as their preferred modes of collaboration.”

Self-paced, online learners are online for a reason: their professional and/or personal schedules and responsibilities led them to online learning in the first place. It makes sense they would prefer to communicate in ways they allow them the same freedom from time and location constraints.

What activities do these students most want to do while collaborating? 70% said “discussions with other students.” This might not mean much until you see the choices and how those ranked, so here’s the full breakdown:

Interest in working with others on specific collaborative activities:

Discussions with other students: 70%
Sharing Internet resources: 44%
Working on a project: 40%
Studying for exams: 38%
Doing an assignment or coursework: 34%
Other activities: 20%
Writing a paper: 18%
Creating Web pages or resources: 18%


The authors touch on much more than these excerpted topics in their research findings, but their recommendations include the following:

— “Familiarity and competence using these technologies is not universal and varies enormously among current students. This suggests that efforts to introduce social technologies need to be accompanied with programs and support that both help learners (and teachers) gain competence, find useful applications and educate them to the potential pedagogical benefits of their use.”

— “At least half of our sample are interested in working collaboratively in some way with other students — but another half are not. This implies that developers of distance education and especially those working with self-paced models should not mandate social interaction, but rather create compelling but not compulsory activities, so that both social and independent learners can be accommodated.”

— “Of the diverse types of social networking tools investigated in this study the most familiar ones are the ones that students are most interested in using in their distance education courses.”


This tells me a lot:

— We shouldn’t assume because we use and see the advantages of a particular social learning tool that our students will embrace them, too.

— The number of registrants for a tool or app (such as Twitter) isn’t the same number of its active users (due to abandonment rates and levels of activity).

— A person can know about a tool or app and have tried it out, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily want it to be a regular part of their learning experience.

— The fastest way to engage self-paced learners is on their terms, using the tools they know and are comfortable using.

— Not all learners are “social” learners; one reason some people are drawn to self-paced online learning might be because they prefer to learn independently.

— Because we shouldn’t assume all online learners are “social learners,” we shouldn’t mandate cooperative nor collaborative activities.

What do you think?

How will these findings affect the way you’re handling your online learners or your plans for future online offerings?

2 Responses to “All A-Twitter”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ryan's blogroll, eLearning Learning, TwitClass, e-Learning Audio, Daniel Taylor and others. Daniel Taylor said: All A-Twitter […]

  2. […] All A-Twitter – A-learning Blog […]

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