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What is the difference between extending friendships and interests and peer-based self directed learning?

November 23rd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I am intrigued by the findings of the Digital Media and Learning initiative on Living and Learning with New
Media
. In the course of the project, funded by the McArther Foundation, researchers interviewed over
800 youth and young adults and conducted over 5000 ours of online observations in the USA. The major finding for me is teh distinction the report makes between the ways in which young people use the internet for extending friendships and interests and for peer-based self directed learning.

The report says: “Most youth use online networks to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, sports, and other local activities. They can be “always on,” in constant contact with their friends through private communications like instant messaging or mobile phones, as well as in public ways through social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook. With these “friendship-driven” practices, youth are almost always associating with people they already know in their offline lives. The majority of youth use new media to “hang out” and extend existing friendships in these ways.”

“A smaller number of youth also use the online world to explore interests and find information that goes beyond what they have access to at school or in their local community. Online groups enable youth to connect to peers who share specialized and niche interests of various kinds, whether that is online gaming, creative writing, video editing, or other artistic endeavors. In these interest- driven networks, youth may find new peers outside the boundaries of their local community. They can also find opportunities to publicize and distribute their work to online audiences, and to gain new forms of visibility and reputation.”
“Some youth “geek out” and dive into a topic or talent. Contrary to popular images, geeking out is highly
social and engaged, although usually not driven primarily by local friendships. Youth turn instead to specialized knowledge groups of both teens and adults from around the country or world, with the goal of improving their craft and gaining reputation among expert peers.

While adults participate, they are not automatically the resident experts by virtue of their age. Geeking out inmany respects erases the traditional markers of status and authority.”

The major issue for education is the different social relations inherent in these activities.
“Friendship-driven and interest-driven online participation have very different kinds of social connotations. For example, whereas friendship-driven activities center upon peer culture, adult participation is more welcomed in the latter more “geeky” forms of learning. In addition, the content, behavior, and skills that youth value are highly variable depending on with which social groups they associate.”

“…in interest-driven participation, adults have an important role to play.
Youth using new media often learn from their peers, not teachers or adults. Yet adults can still have tremendous influence in setting learning goals, particularly on the interest-driven side where adult hobbyists function as role models and more experienced peers.”

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