On using Twitter as a learning tool

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In Social Media for Trainers, Jane Bozarth explains some of the possible uses of social media to meet learners where they are. That means that in the case where social media is in use, where learners consider them a normal part of how they interact and communicate, they can be extended to become part of the learning process. Note that the converse of that is that social media should not be imposed on those who have no wish to use them (they may not be very familiar with on-line tools beyond surfing the Internet) or have difficulty conceiving of how such tools can be useful to them. In such cases, social media may become more a hindrance then a learning tool.

That being said, social media tools can assist with learning in several different ways: “better transfer of learning, more engagement in the learning process, growth of a learning community, support for informal learning” (p. 17).The use of social media is not an end in itself but can provide tools to do all of the above.

Bozarth describes the use of Twitter as a “virtual water cooler” (p. 24), a quick virtual meeting place to share ideas, resources, and links to useful sites. Because it is very open, it is very easy for all to contribute and it makes it possible to gather information from outside a given learning community.  Some may find Twitter annoying because of its “messiness”, the 140-character limit, and its “in the moment” nature. It is not a place to store information, but is meant for instantaneous sharing. But as Bozarth mentions, “it provides an easy way to maintain connections, share thoughts, or ask for advice.” (p. 25).

Bozarth give some quite instructions on how to set up an account and how to use some of Twitters features. For example, she explains how to use a specific hash tag to make it easier for a group to find each others tweets.

Here are some suggestions on using Twitter before a training event:

  • Ask learners to introduce themselves
  • Use Twitter for a virtual icebreaker
  • Send prework assignments, such as reading an article on-line, watch a video on YouTube, or do an web search on a given topic

Twitter could be use as a “backchannel”, for chatting about the course as the course is taking place. Bozarth maintains that this would not be much different (and no more a distraction) than manually taking notes on a notepad.

Twitter can be used between sessions of a program:

  • Continuing conversations from class
  • Sending follow-up comments, such a answers to questions asked in class
  • Talking to subject-matter experts outside the classroom setting
  • Setting up a debate or role-play on-line
  • Reflecting on relevant articles, videos, blogs or websites
  • Furthering the participants’ knowledge by having them engage in independent research through Twitter
  • Brainstorming or polling
  • Carrying out formative or summative evaluations

All of this can be continued after sessions have been completed.

“Experienced trainers – and experienced learners – have felt the rush of good intentions as they leave a training experience, only to see it fade and dissipate as the realities of the day-to-day job set in. Twitter is an easy means of helping learners stay in touch with one another and with the trainer, supporting the growth of a learning community and continued development, providing encouragement and support as learners work to apply their new skills, and serving as a vehicle for cultivating a learning community.” (p. 45)

I was exhilarated as I first read that chapter. I was envisioning a vibrant continuing response to the learning experience started in the classroom. That vision started to fade in the past week as I facilitated training that did not seem to fully resonate even in the classroom, where the presentation of the co-development team process that is meant to complement the program met with a tepid reaction (at best!). My leadership development program participants expect to be transformed by their classroom participation, but certainly don’t want to engage in anything that adds to their already busy day-to-day…

But still I have certainly found Twitter an interesting source of stimulating information related both to work and my personal pursuits, and I do intend to give it a try as a learning tool. I just need to find an appropriate “pilot project” at work to try a few little things and see how it turns out. Then I can turn my mind to how that can be extended. That promises to be interesting even if only a few engage in the experiment with me.

Who out there is using Twitter for learning and how does it work for you?

Reference:

Bozarth, Jane, Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning, Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA, 2010.

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