There is a danger of social networking technologies producing an audience with no event. Despite the considerable heat around user generated content, social networking, podcasting, tagging and all the rest of it this can soon turn into a lot of people looking at each other. Alternatively, to try and use a different metaphor, this can result in a lot of shop windows with no shoppers. There has to be a purpose.
Whether this is a collective purpose or an individual purpose either is fine. If however people just try the technology (a fine activity as that is) then it soon goes stale. It becomes another form of web site if we all just put our posters up and wait on each other or another discussion list we all track with only the odd message being posted. Who should provide the purpose or the focus? What might a focus look like?
I believe, like many people, that informal learning is facilitated by such community technologies but I also believe that it needs people to be pro-active in approaching each other or it needs a contral focus - even if that focus is intermittent. Online communities around the world have online events - guest speakers, theme of the month, webcasts or whatever. Might these be the missing glue for a community?
The other issue is what might come out of being connected this way? What are the boundaries of collaboration in such communiteis and social networking sites? Certainly I don't believe that a virtual learning environment is a piece of software nor too can the same be said of a personalised learning environment. Your learning environment is how you perceive it and it combines different people, purposes, contexts, online spaces and offline activities. Sometimes it's within an insitution and other times it goes far beyond.
I have been a member of a very small informal learning community for some time and after a while I became more confident and more active until eventually I proposed a collaborative learning project. I invited anyone interested to join me. I had several takers and together we tried out a VLE and collaboratively designed an online course. Then we decided to publish a paper to witness and reflect upon our informal collaboration. Then we met and delivered a paper at a conference and finally published a chapter in a book. That's quite a lot from infornal collaboration with people in the UK, USA and Japan to mention but a few.
Based on that experience, i proposed that we develop a support initiative in the online community for anyone else to bring a project to the community. In the first phase we generated around 7 projects which brought together people from all over the world. Some people were in academic contexts and others in commercial settings. After a gap and a change of web sites etc, we recently had a second phase which has had a couple of projects but perhaps not so succesful (http://nicholas.bowskill.googlepages.com/). Maybe it had become exhausted in a relatively small community. Nonetheless, we brought together people from Mongolia and people from across the Middle East - people we might never have worked with in our ordinary working lives.
So what next? I proposed another project! This time we moved away from a list-based environment into a social networking environment in order to explore this kind of technology. We're still a small number and it may not be enough to sustain development. However, in there we are trialling mobile blogging (photo and video) among other things. It's very early days but my point is that once people recognise the potential of these technologies to network its not enough to simply put up your poster like casting a line into the river. I believe you have to take responsibility and then conceptualise the potential into a learning project in order to recruit like-minded individuals and work with a flexible focus.
So, having said all that I aim to generate my own project and others are welcome to join in if they wish. My learning goal or project here will be to explore a course design for web2.0 and learning.
I will begin by posting different ideas for units and then explore the ideas by trying to put flesh on the bones I create. Others can add, suggest, complain, decline or whatever. That's my infornal learning project in this community.
As a freelancer, I welcome input and work from others. Failing that just input will do as a next best.
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