Today I am again at the European Conference onÂ Social Media 2016 and will be liveblogging the sessions. Today is a shorter conference day and I’ll be chairing a session and giving a poster so there may be a few breaks in the blog. As usual these notes are being taken live so any corrections, questions, etc. are very much welcomed.Â
Keynote presentation: Dr Sue Greener,University of Brighton Business School, UK –Â Unlearning Learning with Social Media
I wanted to give you a topic this morning about my topic, which is learning. But not just learning in Higher Education, but also learning in the workplace. I encourage you to tweet throughout, do tweet me @suegonline.
Life is about learned behaviours. We learn habits and once we learn habits, they are hard to unlearn. But at the same time we also love new novel things – that’s why we love social media. You could call this a dichotomy – between habit and the new. A lovely aphorism fromÂ Maria de Beausarq: “The power of habit and the charm of novelty are the two adverse forces which explain the follies of mankind”. We see this dichotomy in psychology all the time.
Davis (1999) talks about habit as a barrier to creating thinking and innovation – the idea that “if someone did it this way, they must have had a good reason”. Glaveanu (2012) writes about “habitual creativity” – where expertise and master is brought about through the constant sharpening and adjusting of habitual practice to dynamic changes in context. As in learning a piano, or a language – practising all the time but gradually introducing flourishes and creativity.
Now, you may be wondering about whether this talk is about learning, or about skills… But I think both are very similar. Learning involves a whole range of skills – reading, note taking, evaluation, etc. Learning is a skill and has a degree of both routine and creativity. And learning is not just about those recognisable tasks… And I want to talk about “unlearning”, something that Alvin Toffler talks about in Future Shock, and he talks about 21st Century digital literacy, talking about learning and unlearning. I was started in elearning and the technology. The technology is what we fit around as habit, as mastery,Â but it’s all about learning. And when I was looking at Toffler’s work, when doing that PhD work, I was worried about learning theory – they all seemed over-engineered, too formal, too linear almost, too structured as pedagogy. I knew that the idea of learning styles – still in the literature and research – but I think of myself as having a learning palate – which I can pick and choose from, I pick the style of learning to suit the context. I personally learn best by learning by watching, by modelling from other people… Yesterday Britt Allan talked about “advertising literacy” and I hadn’t heard that before, but loved that phrase, it made sense to me, and that’s very much how I learn
Bandoura – triple reciprocal determinism – I found theories of learning I understood. He talked about behaviours, and learning from behaviours, and trialling ideas. That idea of not piling learning on learning, but instead about the idea of learning and unlearning, that makes sense. Hefler talks about organisational unlearning – giving it equal weight to learning. Yes, neural networks in the brain accumulates, but they also die away without use… And unlearning is something else.
So, what is unlearning? It is not negative. And it is not about forgetting/the unconcious giving up of knowledge – although it has been seen that way before in the 80s and 90s – we do forget things but that is not what unlearning is. And it is not just replacing the obsolete. But it is a purposive creative process as important as learning. Unlearning is about taking apart the pieces and reconstructing the meaning. It means we can build the foundations of our knowledge. Much under-researched as an area – therefore enticing. Rushmer and Davies (2004) talk about three things: Fading (over time); wiping (enforced from outside – often happens in the workplace, not comfortable); deep unlearning (from individual surprising experience producing inconsistency, changes of value). That deep unlearning can be gradual, or can be about “falling off a cliff” – when we find something surprising and need to decide to change.
And now to social media. Now, I don’t know about you but much of my unlearning takes place on social media. But why? If we go back to 1997, to the early social network 6degrees.com… Since then we have learned to communicate, to exchange information, assessing and evaluating information differently. Information is all around us, and we absorb it in a very social context. So, how much of our learning is from formal courses, and how much is informal learning? Formal learning is the tip of the iceberg, informal learning is bigger and is about rich tacit understanding. As educators we can try to overly control learning, even in e.g. closed facebook groups. But this is learning that benefits from space to work well.
So, informal learning is social and personal and often informal. Bourdieu (1992) talks about a habitus – a mindset – that is enduring but can be transformed by what takes place within and beyond it. Garrick (1998) and Boud (1999) suggested informal interactions with peers are predominent ways of learning at work. Wenger (1998) talks about social participation in the community as key to informal learning. Boud and Middleton (2003) talk about informal learning as being about mastery of organisational processes, negotiating the political and dealing with the atypical – those are things we don’t always embed in the degree process of course. So, how does this all fit with my idea of social media, this DIY media?
When this conference launched in Brighton in 2014 we had a Social Media Showcase with students, employers, academics, and school children. Last year we did a virtual showcase. And this year we did the Big Bang showcase – in a huge showground in Sussex. Over 8000 students from school children – and we were able to have conversations, have vox pops. Out of hundreds of conversations only 10 students did not use social media. And those that were active, they could write a long list (e.g. 8 or 9) of sites they use. My sense is that for this age range these presences are a little like stickers. For these kids informal learning is massive – from peers, from others, from celebrities. At that age perhaps causing a great deal of unlearning. They encounter information in schools but also from peers – which do they choose to trust and engage with? If ever there was a reason for teachers to understand social media, that was it.
At Brighton we have a “switch it on” policy – we ignore this stuff at our peril! You can always ask for devices to be switched off for a few minutes/a task. To exclude those spaces you are turning away and excluding that valuable informal learning, that bigger context. If we want to help people learn, we have to teach them where they are comfortable. And we must help people to evaluate what they see on social media – that is a critical thing for teachers. And social media is not just for kids… We are increasingly joining SnapChat and WhatsApp – less trackable conversations are appealing to older audiences too.
So, back to Rushmer and Davies (2004) and fading… Snapchat is about forgetting, fading. Wiping will be in place in all organisations but we have to think about how to deal more positively with resistance to change. Hislop, Bosley, Coombs and Holland 2013 – who I don’t totally agree with – have a typology of unlearning which is helpful. My thesis is that social media has some particular aspects – it is personal, ubiquitous and high speed. Data is transmitted in a hugely complex route, filtered through sites, through audiences… We have a huge dissemination of a (any) single story. Speed and serendipity are vital features of social media in action. And the experience is intimate – staring into a screen that makes it one-to-one even if in reality it is one-to-many. These interactions can change our mind. They can change our mind in referenda, they can change our mind in many ways. And they can be central to unlearning. That can be for good, and for bad. We will all have great examples of links, of ways we learn through social media. And it is less predictable than mainstream media, you can find surprises, you can catch enthusiasm – and I like to foster that even if I cannot control it!
So, can social media drive deep unlearning? I think all the signs are there. You should make up your own mind.
Q1) I am not sure I totally understand what unlearning is… Learning is a process…
A1) I would relate this to the concept of cognitive dissonance – where there are two competing ideas that you must resolve and decide between. In social media I connect with people I like and trust, if they raise an idea that I didn’t previously agree or subscribe to, their raising of it has the ability to influence or change my mind, or at least means I reconsider that issue.
Q2) YouÂ talked about habitual creativity, and implied that as you get older you may forget/fade. I saw a presentation a few years back emphasising that you can learn by changing your habits – a walking route for instance.
A2) Absolutely. Things like changing your seat in a lecture theatre, changing a route etc. But social media can really shift your understanding.
Q3) I think you talked about two types of learning that don’t mix together. Many go to universities for the workplace to gather formal skills, that you call back on etc. But that requires some structure. AndÂ of course informal learning happens all the time. And the people I
A3) I agree that media stacking and multi tasking is not good… But at the same time in lectures, at conference, I find it useful to reflect, to engage with topics etc. that is very valuable.
Comment) In high school I remember girls knitting and learning too and doing very well.
A3) It is possible, and it is skills that we are developing. I’d agree that it can work, and that it can be helpful for students to be active and engaging rather than passively receiving.
Q4) Thank you for your interesting keynote. How can social media make real change?
A4) I’m not a politician – I wish I was. We have a tool that can strike at the heart of people. It can help form and shape opinion, but that can be bad as well as good…
Introduction to ECSM 2017Â
The next conference will be in Vilnius, the capital city in Lithuania. Lithuania is one of three large modern Northern European baltic countries. We are part of EU, NATO, Euro etc. Vilnius has around 550K, and indeed Lithuania has 3 million people. We have a lovely old town, listed by UNESCO. We have technology sectors that we lead in, particularly green tech, and we have the fastest public wi-fi in the world, and third most affordable internet in the EU! People are lovely, well educated, and we speak many languages! We have 14 universities, we have research parks etc. Our campus is on outskirts of the city – but we have Uber and public transport – and the city centre is all walkable on foot. And our campus has excellent facilities and you are very welcome there. We have many researchers working on social technologies, and a journal for social technologies. And, to end, a short video…
And, on that lovely video,Â I am pausing the liveblog as I’ll be giving myÂ posterÂ on the Digital Footprint MOOC. Normal service will resume afterwards.
Further details of sessions attended to follow.