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How we use technology and the Internet for learning

April 26th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Here is the other part of the paper on the future of learning environments which I serialised on this web site last week. In truth it is the section I am least happy with. My point is that young people (and not just young people) are using social software and Web 2.0 technologies for work, play and learning outside institutions. Furthermore the pedagogic approaches to such (self-directed) learning are very different than the pedagogic approaches generally adopted in schools and educational institutions. Social networking is increasingly being used to support informal learning in work. The issue is how to show this. there are a wealth of studies and reports – which ones should I cite. And I am aware that there is a danger of just choosing reports which back up my own ideas. Anyway, as always, your comments are very welcome.

Web 2.0 and Bricolage

Web 2.0 applications and social software mark a change in our use of computers from consumption to creation. A series of studies and reports have provided rich evidence of the ways young people are using technology and the internet for socialising, communicating and for learning. Young people are increasingly using technology for creating and sharing multi media objects and for social networking. A Pew Research study (Lenhart and Madden, 2005) found that 56 per cent of young people in America were using computers for ‘creative activities, writing and posting of the internet, mixing and constructing multimedia and developing their own content. Twelve to 17-year-olds look to web tools to share what they think and do online. One in five who use the net said they used other people’s images, audio or text to help make their own creations. According to Raine (BBC, 2005), “These teens were born into a digital world where they expect to be able to create, consume, remix, and share material with each other and lots of strangers.”

Such a process of creation, remixing and sharing is similar to Levi Struass’s idea of bricolage as a functioning of the logic of the concrete. In their book ‘Introducing Levi Strauus and Structural Anthropology’, Boris Wiseman and Judy Groves explains the work of the bricoleur:

“Unlike the engineer who creates specialised tools and materials for each new project that he embarks upon, the bricoleur work with materials that are always second hand.

In as much as he must make do with whatever is at hand, an element of chance always enters into the work of the bricoleur……

The bricoleur is in possession of a stock of objects (a “treasure”). These possess “meaning” in as much as they are bound together by a set of possible relationships, one of which is concretized by the bricoleur’s choice”.

Young people today are collecting their treasure to make their own meanings of objects they discover on the web. In contrast our education systems are based on specialised tools and materials.

Social networking

It is not only young people who are using social networks for communication, content sharing and learning. A further survey by Pew Internet (Lenhart, 2009) on adults use of social networking sites found:

  • 79% of American adults used the internet in 2009, up from 67% in Feb. 2005
  • 46% of online American adults 18 and older use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, up from 8% in February 2005.
  • 65% of teens 12-17 use online social networks as of Feb 2008, up from 58% in 2007 and 55% in 2006.
  • As of August 2009, Facebook was the most popular online social network for American adults 18 and older.
  • 10-12% are on “other” sites like Bebo, Last.FM, Digg, Blackplanet, Orkut, Hi5 and Match.com?

Lest this be thought to be a north American phenomena, Ewan McIntosh (2008) has provided a summary of a series of studies undertaken in the UK (Ofcom Social Networking Research, the Oxford Internet Institute’s Internet Surveys, Ofcom Media Literacy Audit).

The main use of the internet by young people, by far, is for learning: 57% use the net for homework, saying it provides more information than books. 15% use it for learning that is not ’school’. 40% use it to stay in touch with friends, 9% for entertainment such as YouTube.

Most users of the net are using it at home (94%), then at work (34%), another persons house (30%) or at school (16%). Only 12% use public libraries and 9% internet cafés. Most people’s first exposure to the web is at home.

A further survey into the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises found few instances of the use of formal educational technologies (Attwell, 2007). But the study found the widespread everyday use of internet technologies for informal learning, utilizing a wide range of business and social software applications. This finding is confirmed by a recent study on the adoption of social networking in the workplace and Enterprise 2.0 (Oliver Young G, 2009). The study found almost two-thirds of those responding (65%) said that social networks had increased either their efficiency at work, or the efficiency of their colleagues. 63% of respondents who said that using them had enabled them to do something that they hadn’t been able to do before. The survey of based on 2500 interviews in five European countries found the following percentage of respondents reported adoption of social networks in the workplace:

  • Germany – 72%
  • Netherlands – 67%
  • Belgium – 65%
  • France – 62%
  • UK – 59%

Of course such studies beg the question of the nature and purpose of the use of social software in the workplace. The findings of the ICT and SME project, which was based on 106 case studies in six European countries (Attwell, 2007) focused on the use of technologies for informal learning. The study suggested that although social software was used for information seeking and for social and communication purposes it was also being widely used for informal learning. In such a context:

  • Learning takes place in response to problems or issues or is driven by the interests of the learner
  • Learning is sequenced by the learner
  • Learning is episodic
  • Learning is controlled by the learner in terms of pace and time
  • Learning is heavily contextual in terms of time, place and use
  • Learning is cross disciplinary or cross subject
  • Learning is interactive with practice
  • Learning builds on often idiosyncratic and personal knowledge bases
  • Learning takes place in communities of practice

It is also worth considering the growing use of mobile devices. A recent Pew Internet survey (Lenhart et al, 2010) found that of the 75% of teens who own cell phones in the USA, 87% use text messaging at least occasionally. Among those texters:

  • Half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.
  • 15% of teens who are texters send more than 200 texts a day, or more than 6,000 texts a month.
  • Boys typically send and receive 30 texts a day; girls typically send and receive 80 messages per day.
  • Teen texters ages 12-13 typically send and receive 20 texts a day.
  • 14-17 year-old texters typically send and receive 60 text messages a day.
  • Older girls who text are the most active, with 14-17 year-old girls typically sending 100 or more messages a day or more than 3,000 texts a month
  • However, while many teens are avid texters, a substantial minority are not. One-fifth of teen texters (22%) send and receive just 1-10 texts a day or 30-300 a month.

Once more, of those who owned mobile phones:

  • 83% use their phones to take pictures.
  • 64% share pictures with others.
  • 60% play music on their phones.
  • 46% play games on their phones.
  • 32% exchange videos on their phones.
  • 31% exchange instant messages on their phones.
  • 27% go online for general purposes on their phones.
  • 23% access social network sites on their phones.
  • 21% use email on their phones.
  • 11% purchase things via their phones.

It is not just the material and functional character of the technologies which is important but the potential of the use of mobile devices to contribute to a new “participatory culture” (Jenkins at al). Jenkins at al define such a culture as one “with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices… Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways.”

Thus we can see the ways in which technology and the internet is being used for constructing knowledge and meaning through bricolage and through developing and sharing content. This takes place through extended social networks which both serve for staying in touch with friends but also for seeking information and for learning in a participatory culture.

2 Responses to “How we use technology and the Internet for learning”

  1. Rogatus Gunewe says:

    How to use internet in education and learning

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  1. […] again, as a result of a post by Graham Attwell ‘How we use technology and the internet for learning‘, I am amazed at the differences between learning ‘in school’ versus learning […]

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