The Social Media Spiral Revisited
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The Social Media Helix and Learning

Note--I wrote this post on Sunday, right after I wrote my original social media spiral post. It further explains where I'm trying to go in regard to social media use and learning and thinking through how to help people use social media tools for their own professional development. After the post I just wrote on early adopters and the early majority, I think it may add more food for thought.

My use of the term "Turtle Learning" may not be the best, but I'm trying to convey a sense of the difference in learning that I think occurs once you move into more actively engaging with social media. I'm open to any suggestions for changing that. This is clearly a work in progress.

The other day I started sharing some thoughts that I've been formulating on a spiral of social media interaction that digital immigrants go through in learning how to use new media tools. What I was trying to get at was how people who are learning new technologies have to go through some different levels of learning that relate what they already know to new kinds of tools.  I'm particularly interested in exploring how we use these tools for learning and development, so as I contemplated my (admittedly lame) little schematic, it occurred to me that that you could divide the spiral into two levels of learning, as I'm indicating in my revised drawing below:

The Turtle Level
I'm calling this the "turtle" level, because I think this is where new knowledge and information comes to you more slowly. I see this happening for a few reasons:

  • For the most part, when you treat the web as something that you go visit when you need it (as with searches and isolated visits to blogs and websites), then new information is automatically going to come to you at a slower, more measured pace. You're only going to get new information when you go looking for it.
  • Even if you belong to email lists and get subscriptions to email newsletters, the pace of information is still slower. You probably don't have subscriptions to 100 newsletters (something you will easily have once you start using RSS) and even the most active lists can be managed by limiting the number of emails you get per day or setting your emails to off so you go visit the listserv site when you want information.

Essentially at the lower levels of the spiral, the web is something you go to when you have a question or need information.

The other major difference at the "Turtle" level is that you are generally having less interaction with the information that comes your way. Most of what you do is passive--reading an email or blog or watching a video. You aren't actively engaging with the content to reflect on what you're learning or to create something new.

I think at the "Turtle Level" you see the web as mostly a huge and more accessible library that you go to when you need to do some research. It might also be a mall or a bank, but it's a place that you go visit, not an integrated tool that stays with you to help you manage your day.

Turbo-Charged Learning
The "Turbo-Charged" level is when you start to get into what we usually mean when we talk about Web 2.0 tools. You're using RSS to pull information to you. You're using social bookmarking to not only bookmark your own information, but to find new information through your network of contacts. You're commenting on blogs and participating in social networks and you may even be Twittering or writing your own blog as well.

At these points in the spiral, information is coming at you much more quickly because you're operating in a "pull" environment, getting media and data from a variety of sources. If you're like most people, once you start using RSS, your biggest problem becomes stopping yourself from adding more feeds and doing what you can to manage and weed things out.

Not only are you getting more information than before, but you're also processing it differently than you did. Instead of just reading and mentally filing things away (often to be promptly forgotten), you will usually find yourself actively engaging with what you're seeing and reading, having online conversations through blog comments and social networks and sometimes reflecting on your own blog.

At this point, the Web is no longer a place you visit. It has become a tool that is integral to your learning and functioning. It is no longer where you go, but how you do things. As they say in training, it is no longer your "sage on the stage," but your "guide on the side."

I think that to make the shift between Turtle Learning and Turbo-charged Learning, you have to fundamentally see yourself as a learner. Part of what keeps us stuck in the Turtle Learning stage is a more passive approach to knowledge and information that waits for someone to tell us we need it before we'll go get it. We're also passive in the sense that we don't actively engage with new material. We're content to read it or watch it and say "that was interesting" and then continue doing things as we did before.

Once you move  to the Turbo-charged level, though, it's impossible to be content with that approach. You are constantly seeing and engaging with new ideas and information and learning takes place even when you aren't conscious of it. To fully engage in the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation levels is to BE a learner. You can't NOT learn if you operate in these environments.

For me, this adds some greater clarity to my thinking about why Web 2.0 is so powerful as a learning tool and how there's a need for a fundamental shift in perceptions and paradigms to move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. What you could argue about is which has to come first--the change in perceptions or the new behaviors? To some extent, you might be able to "fake it till you make it," encouraging people to practice with the new tools and skills of the Aggregation, Interaction and Creation levels to actually create a new perception of themselves as learners. Certainly it will be easier, though, to move people to those next levels if you can appeal to the learner in them.

What continues to be unclear to me is what it takes to move people from Turtle to Turbo-charged. That, to me, seems to be where the big adoption chasm exists and I'm not sure what to do about it. In some ways, I think that part of the problem is because the media talks about the tools of Web 2.0 in terms of their influence on marketing and/or young people. It hasn't occurred to a lot of people that these are the tools of learning and empowerment, so this may change with time. Still lots to think about in here. . . 


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I was hoping the Turtle speed learning would be more about reflection and making sense of it all. Sometimes the turbo charged learning seems a little out of control: lots of new ideas but maybe short on consolidation and coherence. I often feel that I have 3 dozen balls that I've thrown up into the air and now I have to run around and try to catch them all. If I had a drawing now, I might prefer a staircase to a spiral (or, maybe a spiral staircase) but with ample treads for each step so we can comfortably support ourselves on something that feels solid before reaching for the next step. Maybe Christine Martell can draw this.

I like these diagrams Michelle, and the mental image of the turtle made me chuckle a bit. Is the next problem we need to face at the turbo-charged level, the "burn-out", how to manage more efficiently the flood of information coming past us, so we don't suffer from old technology/new technology overload? It can be an amazing stream of stuff - emails, RSS feeds, blog alerts. How do we sift through it in a meaningful fashion, sort the wheat from the chaff as it were, and respond actively to the exciting new ideas?
On my blog I've been over at the debate today about whether/if/will social networks make an important contribution to education. On first view, the question really seems a no-brainer, but perhaps we should ask ourselves if it is here to stay, or just until the next new thing comes along?

What about a tree image.....with roots and branches?

Betsy--I hear you on the reflection piece and I probably should have spent more time on that. I actually agree with you that there's a huge need for reflection, which is one of the reasons I blog. I think that blogging actually makes it easier in a way to reflect because you can so easily incorporate and synthesize all of the stuff you're reading into blog posts--much easier than doing that offline. I do think that it goes back to having the habits of learning and then how social media can help propel those learning habits forward.

Related to that, Kerrie, I think you're right that part of the challenge is then figuring out how to somehow control that flow of information coming in to you. I think that with things like AIDE RSS( ) and having feeds to your network's tags you can start to get a better handle on that, but it's still a constant challenge.

A tree . . . that's a thought, Christine--could help get at the idea that there are foundational skills/tools and then you can branch out in different directions.

In the classic How To Read a Book, one learns to read actively. For me, blogging started out as a way to process and remember the books on parenting and education that I'm constantly consuming (and forgetting.)Slowly, I'm building a community and this adds a rich dimension to our understanding of the subject.

Thank you for giving me some insight into the wired learning process.

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