Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The power of #informal learning: A #social network perspective

Bart Rientiens gave a webinar at the Knowledge Media Institute this morning, describing three cases in which he (and his colleagues) looked at informal and social network learning. This was a must see for me, as it fitted a gap that I found in my research set-up (informal learning in MOOC with interactions involving both internal and external MOOC participants), and it potentially had the power to lift my research instruments to the next level (hopefully giving me some mobile options as well after joining a workshop later this week on Tin Can xApi - if possible).

These are the ideas I managed to write up as the seminar was proceeding (a recording will be made available by next month):

What trends learning today? 
  • Increasing usage of collaborative learning
  • Increasing usage of informal learning
  • SNA increasingly used to map social interactions beween things, objects and people

People who work in education sometimes forget or do not realize that they/we can learn from other teams, because education is field specific (similar to other fields)

But remarkably research showed that:
  • 20 – 50% of learning cross-boundary knowledge spillovers occurs across teams.
  • 30 – 90% of learning occurs outside formal learning setting

So how can we measure informal learning? This is notoriously difficult!

Case 1: online learning in discussion forums

8 years ago research in classical discussion forums of fully online course

Method: online summer course for prospective bachelor students.
Problem based learning: working in teams
Discourse analysis: what are they posting, what kind of dialogue are they engaging in, why.

Concept of centrality was key: the persons at the centre are said to be key learners.
The research team also measured: ego, personal motivation (intrinsic motivation) versus extrinsic motivation.
(using median, skewness, kurtosis, chi-square, significance) => Who are the people who post a lot and who are those that do not post a lot?

Integrated Social network analysis
There are those who read only, but do not interact.
But what if we look at the discourse and only look at the higher level of analysis (high cognitive terms), then another picture turns up. In that case you have a different result as those who do not post much, did post very meaningful content, and resulted in them getting a more central position within the cognitive discourse network analysis.

When looking at correlations
Intrinsically peers post more and more high cognitive messages, then those who are less intrinsically motivated.
That does seem intuitive.
But looking at a longitudinal perspective then again another picture emerges.
From day one, autonomous learners will more likely work with peers from other characteristics then them. So those intrinsically motivated students were more interested in engaging with more extrinsically peers.
So intrinsically motivated students start better from day 1, and extend their lead over time (which is troublesome).
The students on the edge, do not seem to come closer to the central discussioners.

(side remark on research validity: there were using 3 different coders who were not connected to the research to keep it as objective as possible.)

Central question for Bart & team: how to bring the externally motivated peers into the core of the discussion? It is ongoing research, but no clear conclusions up until now (POTENTIAL RESEARCH TRACK :-)

Case 2: informal learning in professional development

This was self reported research, where the research participants indicated from who they were learning and what)
People are put into a training program and put them into smaller groups.

Quantitatively and qualitative analysis. Results: elected people for inter-group communication, and there are groups primarily learning inside their group. Arts people started to bridge team communication, where as engineers (overall) like talking to other engineers.
When they go home, they start discussions with outsiders as well. 

On average four links within formal training, four links within informal environments, and 128 days per year talking about teaching/learning outside of this professional formal environment! (self-reported so risk of being incorrect, but still a staggering amount of time)
By combining formal and informal organizations structures, you can target those peers that have an impact on the overall learning/training inside of an organization. 
Amazingly the outcomes also showed that middle level professionals kept their interactions related to middle level peers, and engaging less with higher management. So what does that say about bridging teams/levels?

Case 3: student learning

Taking into consideration social networks, previous performance, student learning, than social networks =has the and informal learning patterns have much more impact on the learning.
So how do people informally learn and can we change that?

Better learning processes when classes are made to seem small.
By randomly assign groups to different sub-groups influences what is learned and how they are learning.
When learners are kept in similar groups over a long period in time, they start to build stronger, long-lasting ties as well as trusted knowledge exchange ties.
Future research
  • Triangulation with qualitative interviews/focus groups
  • Intervening in the group and community processes in terms of learning analytics.

Bart is a strong believer in group learning. Departments need sufficient strong links outside to keep the creativity going. So is it better to spend time in the group or outside the group. The external/internal relationships do seem to impact the personal learning more than the internal networks.

How was learning measured?
In the first study: discourse
Second and third study: the perception of people: who have you learned with? Self-reporting.

Constructional design has an effect on team work and outcomes. Homogeneous teams work well on easy tasks, but heterogeneous teams work better for complex, difficult tasks.

Hommes, J., Rienties, B., de Grave, W., Bos, G., Schuwirth, L., & Scherpbier, A. (2012). Visualising the invisible: a network approach to reveal the informal social side of student learning. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 17(5), 743-757. doi: 10.1007/s10459-012-9349-0
Rienties, B., Giesbers, B., Tempelaar, D. T., Lygo-Baker, S., Segers, M., & Gijselaers, W. H. (2012). The role of scaffolding and motivation in CSCL. Computers & Education, 59(3), 893-906. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.04.010
Rienties, B., Hernandez Nanclares, N., Hommes, J., & Veermans, K. (2014). Understanding Emerging Knowledge Spillovers in Small-group Learning Settings; a Networked Learning Perspective. In V. Hodgson, M. De Laat, D. McConnell & T. Ryberg (Eds.), The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning (Vol. 7, pp. 127-148). Dordrecht: Springer.
Rienties, B., Johan, N., & Jindal-Snape, D. (2014). A dynamic analysis of social capital-building of international and UK students. British Journal of Sociology of Education. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2014.886941
Rienties, B., & Nolan, E.-M. (2014). Understanding friendship and learning networks of international and host students using longitudinal Social Network Analysis. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. doi: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.12.003

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