By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director of Learning Forward
We use a lot of really cool tools these days to network and collaborate and share great ideas. Twitter, for example, has really simplified rapidly connecting people to ideas and people to people.
This became crystal clear to me at our summer conference in Denver last month. I'm accustomed to our conferences being places where I have a chance to catch up with long-time colleagues and break bread with new members while we talk about the thought-provoking ideas we've just heard. Now I'm seeing how our conference experience has expanded with the use of Twitter, even by those who are onsite learning together. It's very exciting to consider how this will impact our learning experiences.
A few years ago when we realized that people were tweeting at our conferences — before we were doing it ourselves — we'd monitor what folks were saying. At that time, a lot of the tweets concerned logistics of the conference: Why were the rooms so cold, or why didn't we provide free Wifi? Now, people are commenting on ideas, questioning assumptions, and sharing statements that resonate with them. These are the kinds of things we hope happen face-to-face as well. This sort of conversation is quite valuable for deepening understanding and reflecting on new information. And in this context, Twitter does something that our face-to-face interactions can't do, at least while we're onsite — it spreads new learning beyond the 1,600 people who were able to gather in one place at one time. Our networks and conversations are enriched as more people contribute their perspectives.
That experience has made me reconsider how I am using Twitter for my own learning and networking, and with this mindset, it was interesting to read Sarah Garland's piece "Can Twitter replace traditional professional development?" on the Hechinger Report last week. I had commented on her post at the time that the answer to the question posed in the title is "no," that no single model of learning is sufficient for every goal. Of course, the full story is more complex than that.
In the Standards for Professional Learning, the Learning Designs standard states that, "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes." Establishing goals for learning is a key part of identifying appropriate learning designs. So is an understanding of how people learn and the importance of such elements as active engagement, modeling, ongoing support and feedback, reflection, and application of knowledge. Those educators who are unfamiliar with this standard have an understanding of these elements because they are the very elements of learning we stress for children.
For the adult learner, the learning designs that support particular goals might well incorporate technology tools. Such tools, including Twitter, have the potential to integrate reflection, networking, metacognition, and active engagement in ways that were never possible before. The success and popularity of educational technology conferences and blended learning options indicates that many adult learners are grabbing onto these tools because of how well they work for them.
I know I find that to be true for myself. At the conferences of other organizations, I appreciate when the ideas I share from a podium are tweeted to wider audiences. As a speaker, I'm getting feedback about what insights strike a chord with listeners. At the same time, I need to recognize that, on their own, such tweets are building awareness, and without further conversation, aren't leading to deeper understanding.
As more of us move to new platforms for learning, let's not lose sight of the importance of being intentional about how we learn best in a range of contexts for a variety of purposes. The reality is that our time for learning is at a premium and we can't afford to exclude any tool that will advance our development, even if the tool isn't one you carry in your purse or pocket each day.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.