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E-learning, Social Software and Competence Development

February 3rd, 2007 by Graham Attwell

I’m increasing interested in exploring the use of social software for competence development. Of course i know of the problem in developing and agreeing on definitions. I like Sebastian Fiedler’s and Barbara Kieslinger’s assertion that:

…the concept of competence is a theoretical construct that refers to a human potentiality for action or its underlying dispositions.

Competencies acquisition and advancement

Why is this discussion so important? We are increasingly using social software for learning and knowledge development in dispersed communities if practice. But we have problems in understanding the relationship between ‘subject’ based knowledge and competence as applied knowledge and between collective knowledge inherent within the communities if practice and the abilities or capabilities of individuals to use and apply such knowledge.

And I have written before of my worry that techies will see this as a trivial issue only requiring the construction of a simple (probably learning objective based) taxonomy.

Anyway I have developed a proposal for a symposium at the European Conference on Educational research in Ghent this September. The overview for the proposal follows.

Learners are discovering new uses of the technology for learning including instant messaging, file sharing, social networking and  blogging. A growing number of reports have documented how the so called net generation use computers in their everyday life.  As so often happens when confronted with something new, the reaction of the education systems is to control and to restrict it. Young people are told to turn off their mobile phones to go into their lessons on communication! The US government is debating a law banning access to social networking sites in educational establishments.

Of course it could be asked what this has to do with learning? To a large extent it depend on definitions of learning. If we say that learning is an activity which takes place within an institution and guided by qualified teachers, then of course it has little relationship. But if we take a wider definition of learning as purposeful activity which leads to changes if behaviour, then a great deal of learning is taking place.

But it is not just the appeal of communication which is drawing young people to these technologies. It is the ability to create, to share ideas,  to join groups, to publish – to create their own identities which constitute the power and the attraction of the Internet for young people.

The symposium will examine the use of social software for competence development.  Social software is used here in the meaning of software that lets people rendezvous, connect or collaborate by use of a computer network. It supports networks of people, content and services that are more adaptable and responsive to changing needs and goals. Social Software adapts to its environment, instead of requiring its environment to adapt to software. In this way social software is seen as overcoming “the absurd distinction between e-learning and knowledge management software” (Bryant, 2003).

Research  undertaken into the use of e-Learning in Small and Medium Enterprises has found little take up of formal courses. But there was widespread use of the Internet for informal learning, through searching, joining on-line groups and using email and bulletin boards. Google was the most popular application for learning. Age was not a factor.

The symposium which is based on work undertaken in different European projects is focused on research into practice int the use of social software in different contexts. The aim is to provide a rich picture of the different and changing ways in which people are using technology for learning with the aim of developing longer term implications of how new technologies can be used for competence development.

The paper by Graham Attwell and Ray Elferink present research into how social software can bring together different forms of learning for lifelong competence development. Sebastion Fiedler and Barbara Kiesinger look at the relation between domain specific teaching and comptencies in self directed learning. Alexandra Toedt examines how games based learning can develop competencies. Veronika Hornung explores the relevance of traditional educational research methods and concepts of didactical quality and whether they can be applied to the evaluation of technology enhanced learning scenarios. All the contributers will focus on different research methods and approaches for technology enhanced elearning.

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