Social learning, the new pedagogical model

Sharing information across borders and time zones all on mobile devices is the learning model of the future, says John Holden

Some students might debate which is the most boring way of learning. Is it sitting in a classroom listening to a monotone lecturer reading from a lesson they prepared three years ago or is it on your laptop sitting reading online learning material which is not much more than page turning from a hard copy book? Fortunately, times have changed. Learning has moved on and technology now presents so many opportunities for learners to engage, participate, respond and interact with fellow students around the world. Anytime, anywhere learning is upon us, a disruptive learning model which causes us to reflect perhaps on the future of classrooms and the future of books and how students best interact with each other. Everything we need to know in order to learn, understand, apply and retain as knowledge is out there somewhere and of course the catalyst is the available technology.

Social learning is the new pedagogical model. Searching for information, sharing across borders and time zones, supporting fellow students, forming learning groups, all on devices, mobile phones, laptops. Of course it’s not for everyone nor does it claim to be better or more fulfilling than “the campus experience” but it can certainly be totally engaging and learner driven and any short falls in off-campus resources can also be supplemented by the purchase of online tuition, webinars and additional mentoring.

Students may miss the face to face contact of a university campus, the mixing with cultures and the student union socialising but what cannot be denied is that online opens up university education to a whole new sector, providing access to higher level learning to students around the world who aspire to a UK education but could never afford the cost of a UK experience. Many are in jobs that they cannot leave or are home-bound for a variety of reasons. Many students simply do not want the cost and commitment of a timetabled experience. Online widens accessibility, affordability and participation globally and breaks down social and economic barriers.

Online widens accessibility, affordability and participation globally and breaks down social and economic barriers

For these groups online learning can be manna from heaven but of course there is always the danger that it is seen as “easy” or a poor alternative. It is not easy; it is not a watered down version of campus. It is a valid learning model in its own right. Online learning drives the same learning content, the same learning outcomes, the same knowledge acquisition as campus study, but of course in a completely different way. It needs total commitment and motivation from the learner and is definitely not a soft option.

There are many forms of the “new learning model”. Some of it is pretty much online page turning. Some of it is technologically very advanced and expensive. Some of it tries to recreate the campus experience. Some of it is good. Some of it less so. With online learning you don’t have physical classmates to stimulate you and challenge you. This is online social learning. Learners need to create learning groups, join learning groups and observe learning groups. They need to search for useful resources and share them with fellow online learners, ask questions of them and be proactive. With such commitment students can get the most out of the online learning experience, gain the same qualifications as if on campus and almost certainly make a significant cost saving along the way.

For those individuals who believe that they are not worthy of a university education or felt they could never afford it or are not attracted by the campus environment, the message is clear. Online is fun and engaging but at the same time challenging and demanding. Success online will tell others a lot about the sort of individual you are because it does demand so much focus and dedication from the learner. It is most definitely not a second rate experience, just a different way of learning.

John Holden is the founder of Online Business School



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