A colleague of mine sent me this video depicting a pianist incorporating social media into his songs on the fly—yes on the fly! You have got to see this video—it is incredible, and it really made me think about social media and teaching/learning (Warning: video contains some mature content). http://www.good.is/post/intermission-ben-folds-s-live-chat-roulette-piano-ode-to-merton My first reaction was: Wouldn’t it be great if you could do this for an online course, and I had to catch myself; because this, in fact, is how synchronous online courses should be taught and why couldn’t they be? And, more importantly why am I, a learning professional, thinking of this approach as so utopic?
Do We All Think of Synchronous Online Learning as Dull?
My mental model of synchronous learning is not nearly this engaging, and now that I am realizing this, it really saddens me because it should not be that hard. Great instructors have been engaging learners for centuries. I am sure we can all think back on our experiences and remember teachers who stood out. But, let’s be honest: most of them just sort of blend together. This problem was made even worse with online learning; I have seen good instructors become bad instructors online. I personally remember giving a presentation on the authoring and use of learning objects that was well received in the classroom, with lots of brainstorming and dialog; but online, it went totally flat. So what can we do?
A Great Learning Example
I recently saw an eLearning Guild online learning presentation on virtual worlds with Dr Karl Kapp. The format of the presentation had a bar on the left where participants can chat during the presentation—not uncommon. During the presentation, Dr Kapp used all the techniques great designers/instructors do: he asked questions, ran polls, had the audience give him their current understanding/frame of mind in the topic so he could build upon it, threw out ideas/concepts to think about and paused to make sure people had time to respond. All was going well enough, but then, he did something that made the whole group come to life: he started reading the chat stream and joining the conversation. He would say things like: “Yes, I agree, Susan just said XYZ, and I think…” The more he did that, the more the group came to life. Suddenly, instead of the chat being a side conversation, it became part of the course.
Another Great Non-Learning Example
I read a recent article on pistachio.com regarding using Twitter to your advantage during a presentation/conference. One suggestion was to take breaks to read the Twitter stream and respond, the same way Dr Kapp did in the online course. Of course, it makes it easier when the Twitter stream is projected in front of the speaker and class because then the presenter can engage the audience without taking a break. Most interesting is that this approach works online and in person.
Lesson Learned: How Can We Make It Easy to Engage Learners?
I think we can see the trend here: learners don’t engage when we, as instructors or designers want them to. They engage how they want to and when they want to. They don’t jump up to answer the questions we pose or the polls we post, but they sure do love having their own “behind the scenes” conversations in chat rooms and on Twitter. Before social media, learners could not do this because most won’t have a side conversation in the classroom or online if it disrupts the instructor. But they can do so in chats and on Twitter without bothering the instructor/speaker at all. So, let’s take advantage of that. We need to join THEIR conversation, rather than trying to make them join ours—a good idea for online as well as in person.