Social Networking as LMS: Problems and Opportunities

I thought when I was tagged for the my first meme that I had “arrived” in the blogosphere, but now that I’ve been panned by Stephen Downes, I know I’ve really made it. 😉

Stephen Downes at Lake Superior
Image citation
Stephen on the Lake from
Stephen Downes‘s photostream.

I do want to clarify what my Facebook as LMS? post was and was not. I think Stephen’s summary made it sound like I’ve come to conclusions, and I haven’t. This was a post where I saw an interesting idea and used my blog to “think out loud” about it. Besides, I know that realistically our organization is not going to stop using a traditional LMS, so this is a thought exercise for me.

The point, for me, is to imagine what it would be like if you could use Facebook. I wanted to think about what the possible advantages might be, then see if there’s any of those advantages that we might be able to integrate into how we set up courses in a traditional LMS. I do think it’s a valid concept that the technology we use in our courses affects the structure of the learning, in good ways and in bad. Blackboard affects structure in one way, Facebook in another. Maybe we can look at the advantages for learning and come up with a way to take some elements from the best of both, or at least “mitigate the disadvantages,” as Stephen put it recently.

Lest anyone think that I’m jumping on an imagined bandwagon for Facebook all willy-nilly without thought to the disadvantages, I’ll list some of them here. (Not a complete list, but some problems.)

  • Privacy: I touched on this briefly in my previous post about making public mistakes, but there’s more to the privacy concerns than just that. How would something like Facebook work with FERPA or other guidelines?
  • Intellectual Property: It appears that the TOS for Facebook mean that everything you post on their site gives Facebook a license to use it.
  • Student Desire: Both Sarah Robbins and George Siemens have pointed out in comments that maybe students don’t even want to have this blending of personal and school life.
  • Managing Learning: Stephen asked, “But are you going to manage learning in such an environment?” At the moment, my answer is, “I haven’t got a clue.”

What would the potential advantages be of using a social networking space (not necessarily Facebook)? I see several possibilities:

  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Context
  • Hierarchy

In my previous post, I didn’t really separate community and collaboration; I used them interchangeably. As I’m refining my ideas here, I wonder if I should draw a distinction. Community seems to be the connections and dialog between learners. The dialog doesn’t necessarily have to be direct; it could be parallel dialog in blogs or a similar format. A community means you have somewhere to reach out for help, even if you aren’t going for the same goals. Community also implies some sense of shared identity as a group, even if it’s a pretty loose identity. When I think of collaboration, I’m thinking more of a group moving towards the same goal and working together to achieve it. Collaboration implies more consensus to me than community does. Stephen criticized me for emphasizing collaboration too much and not looking for something “more subtle,” and I think that’s a legitimate critique of my previous post. Maybe this is moving in the right direction though.

Context is the idea that having learning out in the “real world” is more valuable than restricting learning to the “privileged spaces” of school. Creating lifelong learners is one of my goals, and helping people learn to use tools that they can take with them after the end of the class and continue learning is part of that. This kind of context doesn’t have to be with something like Facebook though; many tools fall into this category. One of the outcomes for a course I developed is “Integrate the use of social bookmarking and networking sites into daily practice.” The idea of integrating these tools into daily practice so learners would continue to use them was a big part of what we wanted to do; we didn’t want people to simply stop applying this skills at the end of the course.

In a traditional LMS, the power structure between the teacher and student generally has a pretty clear hierarchy. The provided content and the teacher are the givers of knowledge, and the value of students’ experience and contributions is de-emphasized. In a social space, I think that hierarchy could change to focus more on the contributions of individual learners. You might be able to create an environment where it isn’t so much about the “official teacher” but about everyone helping each other learn.

Can we create these advantages within a traditional LMS? I think that at least to some extent we should be able to—I’m going to try at least. What do you think? Have I missed any big advantages or opportunities that I should be striving for? Is my list here even headed in the right direction?

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20 thoughts on “Social Networking as LMS: Problems and Opportunities”

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  4. evaluations of e-learning must also bring to perspective the factors around the development of it. aspects like competitiveness and the need enabling flexible learning, demands on distance learning (etc) point to the fact that e-learning to a certain extent has not necessarily been developed in the premise and spirit of enhancing education interfaces, media and processes.

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  5. I think the idea of the SLE is closer to what I was thinking about as being in the middle of the PLE and LMS. I’m not sure I agree with you that mashups will prevent individualism though; it seems to be that all of these tools make it easier for an individual to pick and choose. I see a movement towards more learner control, too (at least in my own development).

    Great resources! Thanks!

  6. You wrote:
    I wonder if you could do something that would be somewhere in the middle–not as structured and centralized as a traditional LMS, but not as decentralized and individual as a PLE.

    I think mash up technology will prevent individualism in learning environments. And maybe shared learning environments are the “things” in the middle: or (in Dutch with English quotes).

  7. Good to hear it was the thunderstorms and not the blog keeping you awake 🙂

    Actually I believe here the ID are also separated from the students, however some originally may have been educators before becoming IDs. I have invited both and ID and a developer into my classes – just so they could watch how the students interact and that is the only information they take away with them.


  8. Hi Sue,

    No, the thunderstorms have been keeping me from sleeping well, but not the blog. 🙂

    It may be that it’s a bit more complicated in the U.S. than in Australia, and certainly my particular situation adds some additional challenge. The privacy regulations for student information within the U.S. do seem to restrict who can have student names and contact info. Both at my current job and a previous one doing online higher ed, there was a very clear wall of separation between IDs and students. Now, maybe that’s not actually required by the law and we are just being overly cautious, but it seems to be pretty standard.

    The other complicating factor is that I’m not working directly for a university; our company provides courses for a number of different universities. We’re in effect contracted with those colleges to provide courses. Even if the law allowed me to interact with students directly if I was a university employee, sharing personal student info with a 3rd-party contractor would most likely violate the regulations.

    For me, the focus needs to be more along what Bob Greenwood was talking about with organizational change. We are blessed with amazing, passionate faculty; trust me, if they can be convinced that these tools are beneficial, they’ll go out and persuade students themselves.


  9. Hi Christy

    I hope you did not have a sleepless night as a result. With it being Day 24 of the 31 Day Project I can definitely relate to dreaming about your blog during the night.

    I do interact with programmers and instructional designers that have been involved with creating toolboxes for the Australian Flexible Framework. And my suggestion to them is to work more closely with learners to see how both the educators and learners interact with the material. Understandably educators will use e-learning material in varying ways, but surely working more closely with them will give all a better understand of each others needs and everyone will have greater gain? Maybe I am naive?


  10. Hi Sue,

    I realized when I went to bed last night that I had made a note for myself to reply to this comment but never got back to it. Does thinking about your blog when you’re trying to sleep mean you’re obsessed? Anyway, sorry for the slow reply.

    I have to be a little more indirect than what you can do; I’m entirely behind the scenes and don’t interact directly with our learners. In some respects, that means I need to work to convince our facilitators the value of Web 2.0 tools first, so they can convince the students. It’s definitely a matter of ongoing cultural change, first within our organization and then hopefully spreading out to the teachers in the schools.


  11. Hi Christy

    My remote students, are older, and quite a few have are actually teachers. I have tried integrating some of these Web 2.0 tools with my students, but with very limited success. As they point out to me, in their case, their motivation is to learn aquaculture.

    Your circumstance is different as is your group, and we should be opening up the eyes of our teachers to the possibilities but it will be a challenge – I suggest you use a web conferencing tool like Elluminate (you can get a Vroom for free that allows up to 4 people). Then you can do a presentation on why they should use it then get them to set up tools but sending them to separate break out rooms and using application sharing.

    Good Luck

  12. Wilfred–great phrase! I will have to use that.

    I see what you’re saying about the expectations associated with the word LMS; that does imply a certain sort of structure and tracking that isn’t really what we’re looking at here. Perhaps this is where it intersects with the idea of a PLE instead, although I’m not sure that’s where I want to go either. A PLE is going to be a different collection of tools for every individual, very decentralized. I wonder if you could do something that would be somewhere in the middle–not as structured and centralized as a traditional LMS, but not as decentralized and individual as a PLE.

    Anyone have an idea for a term for that “something in the middle” that isn’t a traditional LMS or a PLE?

  13. Hi Christy,

    Great example of what I use to call: “a blog as a mean for thoughts under construction”.
    Imho is the paradigm of learning crucial for the kind of technology. Social network services fit with more social-constructivistic concepts of learning. The traditional LMS fits with more ‘traditional’ concepts of learning (although social-constructivism isn’t that new). I believe it is essential to manage teacher’s and students’ expectations. If a teacher wants to follow the progress of students in a more traditional way (including formative testing), Facebook etc are not suitable. Perhaps it is preferable not to speak about Social networking as LMS, because it can confuse teachers. They might have certain expectations with an LMS. And these expectations differ from applications like Facebook.
    best regards from the Netherlands.

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  15. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the encouragement. There’s definitely a lot of questions still to be asked in this area, so I’m sure I’ll have more to write.

    Best wishes, and thanks to everyone for this continuing conversation.


  16. Christy,
    A belated word of encouragement to keep asking questions. Sure, Social Networking sites, or wiki engines, or mobile tech may not be to the point where they can make a sizeable dent in our organizational training goals.

    They won’t if we don’t ask the questions and challenge the assumptions. If we don’t ask the “why not’ we will never get to the “how”.

    Keep pushing and asking… all the best.

  17. Sue, I’m not sure that it’s unfortunate, but I definitely agree with you that the student audience and goals should have a huge effect on what technology we choose. I do see an advantage for using Web 2.0 tools in a situation like you described with on-campus students.

    I’m still wondering how I can integrate some of these Web 2.0 tools for my older, fully online, less tech-savvy practicing teachers. I think it’s important for K-12 teachers to learn these skills so they can use them with students, but I haven’t figured out an entirely successful way to do that yet.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, Sue.

  18. Unfortunately I do think it depends on your online students, and what you are trying to achieve. If students are remote, and have minimal f2f interaction with limited technology skills then a LMS may be the better option.

    But if we are talking online with on-campus students, and we want them to encourage collaborative learning – then lets forget about LMS. I think the power of Facebook is for them to network privately with one another and I would rather use other Web 2.0 tools to encourage learning.


  19. Jane, thanks for the encouragement. There’s definitely some big ideas here, and I clearly hit a nerve based on some of the criticisms. This is a topic that I’m definitely mentally processing by writing about it (which is one of the reasons I have the blog). Like I told Chris Sessums in another comment though, I feel like I have more questions than answers.

    Aren’t they interesting questions though?

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