Using social media for personal learning

Today I ran a short session where I shared how I use social media to enhance my learning. I've blogged previous about this topic in the post Social Media for YOUR learning but now I've refined my thinking and developed a better presentation about this I thought I'd share my thinking again.

I decided to represent my thinking in the below pearltree.  Pearltree is a website where you can create mindmap-type groups of bubbles which links to websites.  I've started using it as my main bookmarking site.  It took a bit of getting used to but its good if you want to group things and is certainly more visually appealing than a normal bookmarking service.

Making sense of how I use social media to aid my learning is a tricky business.   However, I have a sort of system and this what I wanted to share.  Although the process is iterative some types of activity do present themselves.  An important point is that different aspects of the same tool fit into the different categories I identify.

  • Seeking and consuming knowledge - This is mainly my RSS reader and twitter.  I use google reader and have a carefully refine list of blogs and learning technologies news services which I subscribe to.  With twitter, I don't spend as much time as I could or should on this.  I'm following 170 or so people and it purely about learning technologies.  I have a seperate account for fun stuff as it's useful to differentiate between my learning and social life.  In the pearltree below I've also included google and linkedin as these are also important places I look for things.
  • Aggregation - Very closely associated with seeking knowledge is the aggregation of knowledge.  You need to aggregate before you can consume in a discerning fashion.  RSS and the process of subscribing are fundamentally components of this.  Gradually twitter is muscling in on my time but I still love my google reader.  Also included below are evernote where the different folders I create and the notes I take are a form of aggregation for review later and diigo.  I use diigo because it allows for groups which, along with the normal tagging, allow me to easily find types of bookmarks.
  • Website note-taking - I tend not to do this in its purest sense but it deserves its place as there are a host of services which can be utilised for this purpose.  Of the sites listed in this pearl below, my activity is mainy confined to evernote which I use to copy/paste the best bits, the golden nuggets of knowledge I find.  By creating a note for each set of such nuggets, I can include a weblink and tag for future reference.  The important point here is that you find time to review later - that's the learning.  I also ensure that when I bookmark in diigo I write a few words to remind myself what the site is about.  However, with bookmarking proper tagging are key.  Bounce and scrible are note-taking on the website tools.
  • Knowledge sharing - This is an important part of the ethos of social media and web 2.0 - you share as well as consume, you give as well as receive.  My chief forum for this is twitter where I get benefit from articulating the key points in a tweet and from generating more contacts to follow and be followed.
  • Brainstorming/sense-making - Here I've included a drawing tool and a couple of mindmapping tools.  I use mindmapping tools a lot to helping create relationship between concepts and play with my ideas.
  • Text-based dialogue learning - This will be different for everyone.  My networks for this include a couple of learning technology groups and some linkedin groups, but I've also included my blog where dialogue can occur in the comments.
  • Writtern reflection - This completes the circle.  It's what I'm doing now and it a vital component for my learning.  The fact that I've not done much blogging over the last few months isn't good and I know I learn less when do less blogging.  The process of articulating for an potential audience is right at the heart of learning.  By refining my words, I refine my learning.

I would be interested in hearing anyone's thoughts on my PLE and hearing about the tools you use.

Tablets: Finally a technology for the classroom

I wanted to blog again as it's been a while.  Amongst all the different facets of my work recently, the area that is most stimulating my thinking is ipads and the potential of tablets in formal education.

I feel strongly that tablets have the potential to have really positive impact on our formal education in the classroom.  Internet based technology have a duel function within formal education.  Use within the classroom and as the hub of activity for homework assignments.  Now with tablets and the excellent ipad, we finally have a technology with the potential to widespread use in the classroom.  It's in the classroom where technology can truly be blended into the learning design.  Homework is fine but formal education is 99% face-to-face.  Rightly or wrongly, this is our reality.  And technology that can fit seamlessly and unobstructively into this environment is what is needed.  Ipad provide this.

Within my training event 21st Century tools for teaching and learning, I don't really talk about the context for use but I'm aware that widespread use of the internet within the classroom is difficult logistically for most educational institutions with current hardware.  The only way it can work within the classroom is within laptops/notebooks - until now. 

I'm started to find blogs reflecting on ipad trials (e.g. and  I'm going to keep and eye on these as I start this new strand to my learning process.  Now I own one myself I was try educate myself on the apps.  The apps are the focus but use of internet tools not packages in apps should not be ignored as ipads are an excellent browsing tool.  The key affordance is the potential for engagement - annotation, highlighting, interaction, creation etc.  So dynamic content can be created, delivered and actively engaged with by each student.

I see this as an introductory post on a subject which should occupy my thinking over the coming months so plan to explore different aspects in future posts. 

Discussion activity templates

In our rush to  promote knowledge and understanding of dynamic, creative and engaging internet-based technologies within formal education, it's easy to lose sight of the importance of core text-based interaction tools like discussions or forums.  Such communication channels can be a really good way of eliciting a reflective dialogue when setup and facilitated effectively.  The key point is that the asynchronicity allows for reflection and considered articulation of your thoughts (something I've reflected on in Asynchronous = Time and space learning , The difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning activities and The learning cycle and the power of asynchronous learning activities ).  For me, the process of rearranging and retyping words in a forum post is as close to a manifestation of the learning process as you can get.  Your knowledge and understanding is being refined and crystallised based on the thoughts of other learner's. In addition, you are presenting your position and making a conscious effort to get your point across.  In addition, regular engagement in text-based learning activities have a really positive effect on developing a learner's written articulation skills.

I work in UK Higher Education where its rare for courses to make use of learning technologies not to design in some discussion based learning activities.  A common technique for those involved in helping educators design such activities is to use representations of practice.  This could include case studies, or pedagogical templates.  Quite often, learning technologies come up with their own and I am no different.  I try to use representations which have pedagogical rigour but are also easily digestable.  The level of abstraction needs to be somewhere between being too abstract for easy application and too specific to be adaptable.  Also, a consideration for easy digestion is the length of the representation.  Basically, its not good to be too long.
Below are a set of representations that can be used for any online discussion tool.  Each box represents example wording that can be adapted for use within any learning activity using this tool.  You will notice that there is lots of process support in each wording.  This covers how the learners should engage with the activity and explaining how the tutor/facilitator will engage.  Such process support is a vital part of the design of online learning activities and often overlooked.

Ideally I use these activity wordings as part of learning design consultation.  It helps educators new to e-learning visualise how such activities could work.  It also highlight the different types of discussion you can have.  I've grouped the wordings within a scaffolded learning process - it happens to be Salmon one but I could have used others.  The point of this is to show how discussions can be used at different stages of a scaffolded learning process.  What's interesting is that other tools like wikis are more suitable for later stages in the learning process whereas the discussion tool is a versatile and can be used within lots of different contexts. 

I hope you find these useful.

Collaborative bookmarking in education

To continue the series of posts on the theme of internet-based tools for teaching and learning, here is my latest thinking on collaborative bookmarking in education.

Firstly, the term I'm using is collaborative bookmarking rather than social bookmarking.  This is because I'm trying to put it within a educational context.  The emphasis, therefore, is collaboration or co-construction of knowledge and understanding and using an online bookmarking service as part of such a pedagogical design.

The best way of experiencing online bookmark is to experience it for yourself and, unlike other online tools with potential for education, there is a clear rationale for personal bookmarking as it's a much, much better than saving website links than the old favourites, folders way.  Part of this is about digital literacy, we really need to help our educators understanding and experience key social media concepts for themselves to help them comprehend how formal can utilise such tools.  For example, for social bookmarking tagging is key.  The power is in the multiple tags you can put against single sites so that sorting and categorisation can be nuanced and flexible.  Although tagging exists across all social media, it's amazing how it isn't used by the vast majority in most tools/services.  With bookmarking you pretty much have to tag, so it's a good way of forcing people to learn this skill and experience its benefits.  This is the folksonomy concept.

The learning context is simply - group creation of a relevant weblinks so that the workload is shared and the useful resources people find can be built up into a bank of resources for groups in the future.  The principle is sound so what are the tools?
I've used two services: and  Delicious has changed much over the years.  As a pure bookmarking tool, in its current version, this is my favourite.  It's brief marriage to yahoo didn't do it any favours (I went elsewhere whilst this occurred) and its progress has been set up a few years as a result.  It's strength is its simplicity and the stacks feature is a good one.  I can see how stacks could be utilise for student activities where they are asked to find and present as a resource relevant websites on a particular topic.

However, for a group learning context its not ideal.  For this I would recommend as its more geared towards education.  A free education license ( gives you the ability to create accounts for students in a group.  You could use such a group to share resources and I've helped a number of colleagues do this for their courses.  What's good is that you get a url for your group area which you can share and post to your vle area websites.  Also, with diigo you can make notes against each bookmark or make notes on the webpage itself.  I've used diigo to plan sessions like this one with colleagues.

So what's my experience of bookmarking in my UK HE institution?  Overall, I would say the courses I've helped with haven't made much use of their group bookmarking facility. Its worth reflecting on why?
  • Usability has an impact as it's not great.  Ok, there's a diigo toolbar but what if your educational institution won't let you do this? Well, you are left with their rather cumbersome usability. Also, access to any diigo requires a login.  Although you can create this for students its still an extra step.  I advise where possible you duplicate other logins they may have.
  • There's an ethos of sharing at the heart of social media and when shoehorned into a formal education context it often doesn't sit well.  There's an element of competition, an element of selfishness ingrained into the mentality of learners who have come through schooling and have arrived at higher education - at least at the moment.
  • The common context for use has been as a course wide sharing of readings and references related to the writing of the assignment.  Technically students should be collecting these throughout the course.  However, its common for this to occur in a mad rush at the end.  There's no time or use for sharing resources at this stage.  It would be preferable to relate the sharing of web resources to a particular learning activity so that the rationale and incentive is clear and you can quickly reach large number of bookmarks.  It's only when you have lots that you see the benefit of having a dedicated bookmarking service.  Otherwise, students will simply paste via a forum or email.
I've had a section within my session 21st Century Tools for Teaching and Learning on bookmarking since I started it a 3 years ago.  I've been able to create a diigo create and hand out logins for people to try out the uploading process.  It's worked well.  At the last day I did on 7th Feb there were interesting ideas of using it for sharing resources amongst staff and parents.

I'd welcome any comments about your experiences of bookmarking in education, whatever the context.

Using forums/blogs/wikis to facilitate learning: A summary

As usual for me, I'm breaking away from an existing train of thought in these posts for something different.

When you work with VLEs/LMSs you deal extensively with the text-based communication tools that exist in all systems.  The 3 biggies are the discussion/forum tool, the blog/journal tool and the wiki tool.  Explaining how each can be used to facilitate learning within learning activities is a key challenge for the Learning Technologist.  What's really important is that you articulate clearly the subtle differences between these tools and what their pedagogical affordances are. 

Here are my attempts to sum things up:

Discussion/forum tool
Use the asynchronous online discusssion tool for engaging students in a text-based dialogue:
  • to facilitate a meaningful learning dialogue amongst students
  • to develop students‘ written communication skills
  • to allow time and space for tutors and students articulate clearly and thoughtfully when engaging in a dialogue
  • to flexibly engage with students
Blog/journal tool
Use the blog/journal tool:
  • to facilitate reflection amongst students
  • to facilitate individual feedback from tutor to student through private journal/blog structures
  • to develop students‘ written communication skills
  • to allow time and space for students articulate clearly and thoughtfully when reflecting on their learning
  • to flexibly engage with students
Wiki tool
Use the wiki tool for co-construct text:
  • to facilitate collaboration amongst students the editing and refining of eachothers words within a group project context
  • to facilitate co-operation amongst students through the allocation of tasks within a group project context
  • to allow time and space for students articulate clearly and thoughtfully when writing on a particular topic
There's much more to it of course.  However, I'm trying to summarise here and give the key messages.  I welcome the views of others.