Facebook: For or against Learning

6 Dec

Just last week a school in Mumbai asked its students to stop using Facebook as it was interfering with their studies and could adversely impact their exam results.  The school may have had its reasons for doing so – it might be a response to a specific incident or a parent complaint. It is not uncommon for social media (or even mobile phones) to be used as tools for bullying other students even when out of the school.

Yet Facebook is a wonderful medium for shared learning outside the classroom. It may even be the ideal tool to encourage the peer learning networks we spoke of last week, here on this blog.  It is not difficult to set up a page or a group on the system that operates as a study circle – with different members of the study circle contributing on a regular basis. The advantages are manifold, not the least being shifting the drudgery of ‘classwork-homework’ outside the classroom, to free up time to do genuine learning within the class.

Yet, schools see such social networks as the enemy. Not realizing that while such bans may be a means of exercising their pastoral care responsibilities, schools are not really in control of the choices made by young teenagers. Worse, it is an opportunity missed to encourage learning outside school. A ban on teenage activities may even be counterproductive and such a controlling attitude may actually be symptomatic of other dependencies being inculcated in cohorts that should be learning self discipline and the management of free choice. You can tell a teenager what to do, but you cannot make them not do it – to paraphrase a popular saying.

Of course, this begs the question – would young teens allow themselves to be seen on social media actually studying? Why ever not, if we make it fun and cool for them. Then, there is always the option of using a false name online – work without loss of coolth. Is it safe? Other people can use false names and prey on our students too. Certainly – every communication tool exposes us to more people, which is why verified networks and other safety features are key to good implementation of any such system.

Learning styles too have changed over the generations. While the concept of 4-6 types of learning styles (taxonomy) that was popular in teaching theory has been debunked in literature, it is still true that different people learn in different ways. To a generation that had books and teachers as their only source of knowledge, it is almost inconceivable that children today can learn from as many as ten sources of information simultaneously. Recent studies have proved that students who seem to be distracted are also learning even though it does not appear so to traditionally trained preceptors. Often, children can be actively learning from up to ten stimuli simultaneously, thereby debunking the notion that focus and concentration is the only way to learn.

Tools and technologies that were perceived as ‘entertainment’ are no longer exclusively so.  Just as Facebook is a great tool for peer learning, whether formally or informally, other traditional entertainers are also directly entering education space. Games for education is a booming industry, as is the industry that designs educational applications for mobile smartphones. Today, I can just as easily learn basic vocabulary of a foreign language from my phone as from a class. Or practice my maths sums on the internet as from a textbook. Games for preschoolers are a booming industry, many of them operating on the freemium model – which means basic material is available for free. Others are really totally free.

New technologies certainly mean that our teaching styles will need to change. Interactive, self driven learning – as it was before schools were invented – seems to be making a comeback. The pedagogies are also inspired from the era before schools – songs, games and competitions. As with all technology that takes us beyond previous physical limitations, we worry about safety. These are valid concerns, with solutions that are not very difficult to implement. To those who worry about Facebook, or other social media as spawns of the devil that will distract our students from the golden goal, we must ask – is that as far as your faith and imagination will go?  I invite parents and educators to be less afraid of the new tools of communication, to proceed intelligently and play with the learners in these spaces. Let us see if we can bring some of the joy back into learning.

And, if you need help, just ask.

This post was published on December 2, 2011 here:

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/facebook-for-or-against-learning

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