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How to introduce social learning to your programme

This is a guest post from Julie Petersen. Julie writes about topics in learning and technology.

You decided to immerse your learners in the online world? That’s great! The internet is an endless source of knowledge that you’ll finally start using productively. However, it’s also a source of distractions, and social media websites are considered by many to be the greatest distractions ever.

Are you about to install browser extensions that forbid access to social media? Hold that thought! First, we want you to think about the way social media can support the process of online learning. Then, we'll look at some top tips for making the most of social learning as part of your programme.

1. Use social media to create a virtual classroom environment

What do you do when giving lectures in a traditional classroom? You give your presentation, you assign a classroom activity and you expect your students to collaborate and find solutions to different problems related to the topic, right? Well, that’s exactly what you can do through social media.

Who needs to design a whole website that would support collaboration when a simple Facebook group can serve the same purpose?

As an online instructor, you can benefit from social media interaction among your students. They will use private Facebook groups to support each other through the process of learning. When you become part of those groups, you can share useful online links and answer any questions they have.

The resources you share don’t have to be related to the class you teach. How about a motivational TED talk every week? You can invite the students to discuss it in the comments. This gives you an ability to connect with the learners on a deeper level. Online education is often being criticised for the lack of personal contact. With a Facebook group, you can surpass that gap. 

Of course, the key concern here is that people may not be comfortable mixing their personal accounts with work, and many people may not use your network of choice at all. That's why it's important to tread carefully and understand what your learners are comfortable with before you decide where to host your virtual classroom.

2. Ask learners to blog

As students, many people hate academic writing. It’s no wonder so many people search for writing services reviews and order papers online. This attitude can easily continue into adult life, and many learners won't want to write lengthy assignments as part of their learning programme.

Instead of formal written assignments, why not ask learners to research the topics you have in mind and present their knowledge in the form of blog posts? Each of them can have a unique blog, which you’ll review as they are making progress with the publication. This can be a much more informal way to convey what they've learnt, and allows them to reflect on their learning to consolidate everything they know.

Blogging is fun, but useful as well. The language can be conversational, so the learners won’t bother following academic writing rules. However, they will still need to conduct in-depth research to find relevant online sources that support their arguments.

Great blogs lead to comments. Since all students will have access to all blogs, they will comment on each other’s work to ask questions and present opinions. This method can result in constructive discussions that essays rarely provoke, and makes assignments less of a solitary activity.

3. Tweet away

A Twitter hashtag can be a fun way to keep track of a social media conversation. You can easily set one up and encourage learners to use it each time they tweet about your topic. Go for something unique, perhaps incorporating your business name, the cohort or a code to help prevent the conversation from becoming mixed up with other irrelevant conversations, like:

  • #MyOrgCompliance
  • #machinery2016
  • #foodhygiene7103

This helps get learners thinking about sharing information that matters, and can be a more organic way to share useful material as they find it. They may use the hashtag to ask questions, share tips or even relevant news stories they've come across to enrich the learning experience for everyone. Of course, if this is the route you take, you need to ensure that everyone is able and willing to use Twitter for this purpose. Some people may not want to use the platform, while others may prefer to keep their account private or for personal use only. It is always essential to consider where your learners are online already and how they use platforms. Don't just start a social initiative and assume people will come.

4. Use an enterprise social network

Yes, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and other social media platforms are cool, and can definitely help enhance the learning process if used appropriately. However, if you’re planning to make online learning the key focus of your training programme, you need a platform that will allow you to distribute presentations and all kinds of online materials, test the knowledge of your students, and help them collaborate with each other.

Totara Social is one of the best platforms you can use for that purpose, because:

  • It supports the social learning concept by allowing the users to create new information, ask questions, recommend online sources, and share ideas
  • The online learning process has a serious flaw: it rarely comes with collaborative projects. Thanks to Totara Social, you can assign teamwork tasks to overcome that problem
  • This tool also supports blogging, in addition to the chat, forums, and comments. It gives you all tools you need to engage your students in online learning

When you’re dealing with a group of online students, you have to get them on the same page. With Totara Social, that’s exactly what you can do.

Why social learning?

Social learning can very much work to your advantage if you make the best use of the technology available to you. There’s no reason to be frightened by the distractions if you use these platforms to support the learning process, whether you're opting for mainstream social networks like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn or a dedicated enterprise social network. In addition to our tips above, you can discover many other ways to use social media. That’s the best thing about it; it allows you to experiment and discover your unique teaching voice. Go for it!    

Check out our Totara Social page for more information on how you can introduce social learning to your programme.

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