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Using Learners' "Technoprofiles" to Integrate Social Media and Learning

JimenezframeworkVia Christine Martell at Blog Cascadia comes this learning framework from Ray Jimenez on choosing social media for learning. It's based on Ray's reading of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research.

Ray points out that the tendency in using social media for learning is to force creator status on everyone:

The tendency in early adoptions of social networking in learning is the over emphasis on learners becoming active participants. Since Wikis, Blogs and discussions are abundant and tools easy to apply, trainers tend to emphasize the contributions of learners by postings and comments.

This is unfortunate because not all learners may wish or are ready to make comments or participate in discussions, and yet may be willing to do something else. The biggest downside is that, trainers basing on this early experience, tend to conclude that "social learning and networking" does not really work because learners seem not too excited in making comments. I have heard this moaning so many times.

The best instructional design recognizes that you need to meet learners where they're at if you want build the right scaffolding. Forcing people who are naturally lurkers (as most learners are) to move immediately into actor or creator mode may be counter-productive, as it will inevitably turn off your learners.

The solution, Ray suggests, is to create learner "technoprofiles" as he's done here. This framework helps us consider the best strategies to consider in developing learning experiences that use social media.

Christine points out in her post that since we're still in the early adoption phases, learning professionals might need to be focusing more on creating podcasts, videos, screencasts and online presentations that appeal to the lurker audience. I tend to agree, much as I hate to say it. My dream would be that everyone is a creator, but that's obviously not going to be happening, at least in the shorter term. I think that part of the issue is that people don't see themselves as learners. It is also a degree of technophobia. 

Although we need to spend time developing things like podcasts, videos, ect., I think that we need to be finding ways to help people move into actor and creator status too, recognizing that this may be a slow transition for many people. This is where using creator tools (i.e., blogs, wikis, etc.) to deliver "lurker" learning can help to move people forward--for example, embedding short, multimedia learning chunks into a blog and encouraging people to try commenting.  Adding polls and rating systems may be a good intermediary step to include--it allows people to act on the online content without having to make a full creator kind of commitment.

Using tools that help people bridge the distance between familiar and unfamiliar technologies may also be helpful. Posterous, for example, which allows you to blog entirely through email, seems like a great opportunity for encouraging people to try creating social media.

For me, Ray's framework harkens back to some of what I was thinking about a few months ago when I drew the social media helix. Ultimately I believe that the most valuable and long-lasting learning occurs at the creator level, not at the lurker level. Ray's chart highlights this--check out the "Results" row where the learning result for lurkers is "retention," while for actors it's "application" and for Creators it actually changes work behavior. From a workplace learning perspective, clearly finding ways to move people from lurker to actor or creator is part of improving the quality of that learning.

So the real question becomes what is the proper scaffolding to make this occur? How do we take lurkers and  turn them into actors and creators? And I don't want to hear that we should just let people stay at the lurker level. That's like saying that we should just not worry about doing a good job as learning professionals. For me, part of the mission is to help people be better learners, not just to transmit specific content to them. Keeping people at the lurker level is a way to create followers, not creative thinkers and leaders.

UPDATE--Be sure to check out the comments where some really interesting discussions are happening.


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Kia ora Michele,

I wonder about even the idea of trying to persuade so-called lurkers to make comments. While I am aware that it's a nice-to-have when all who log on participate in this way, there are a number of things to consider.

One is that lurkers learn.

Another is that though the technoprofile can be drafted, and some LMS permits this more so than others, the luring of a lurker is a very delicate art. It is not unlike angling for a trout. Move the lure the wrong way and it never comes back even to have a look.

I think I gave you the link once before to a web article citing the work of two researchers, Caleb Clark and Marcy Bauman. They both tended to 'let the lurkers lurk'.

Ken, I agree with you that luring lurkers is no doubt a delicate art. But I don't think that when it comes to learning we should be content to let lurkers lurk. I'm not suggesting that we drag them kicking and screaming into participation, but I do think that in order to consider ourselves successful we need to move people to some level of participation. Otherwise that's like sitting in a classroom and saying that we're content with having someone just sit there and quietly listen. A very tiny minority might leave the classroom and do something with what they learned, but typically when people are not interacting during the learning process this means they won't really take what they've learned and apply it elsewhere.

As far as the ability of an LMS system to support us in luring lurkers to participate. . . that's probably one of the reasons that I'm generally not a big fan of LMS or any other form of e-learning that encourages people to be passive recipients of information. If there are no social media supports that encourage people to interact with each other and the information, then that's a pretty poor excuse for an LMS in my opinion. This is one of the major reasons that I believe in the "small pieces, loosely joined" notion of developing our own personal learning environments.

My big concern here is that the people who are going to get ahead in this new world are the ones who know how to actively engage in the digital context. You can't learn how to do that by lurking. The only way is to dive in. So as learning professionals I think we have a responsibility to show people how to do this effectively, including helping them explore the culture and implications of interaction in a variety of online environments.

Of course, that's just my opinion. :-)

Thought provoking. Much of the literature about the Net Gen entering colleges suggests that they are creators of content already, yet that is a stereotype that could lead to some false assumptions. I like this idea of assessing students to determine their technoprofile. Now to find an instrument that does that???

Britt, you're right that we can't take any of this for granted. From my experiences with my own kids, they may be creators in some contexts (i.e. Facebook) this doesn't mean that they know how to do it elsewhere. My blogging 20 year-old daughter has never worked with and thinks that Twitter is ridiculous.

As for being able to do a technoprofile, you might want to check out the Groundswell website. You can do a general technoprofile based on age, location and gender, but if you look at the presentation slides, they describe each of the types in more detail. It's possible that you could turn this into a sort of informal assessment that could then be used with students to help them build their own technoprofile. This would also be an interesting introduction into the whole web 2.0 movement.

One thing re: the above--the Forrester info is copyrighted, so turning this into an actual assessment probably wouldn't be a good idea. However, you could still review the slides with people and have them self-identify from the descriptions of each of the different types where they think they fall on the ladder.

I think this is an excellent description of where things stand right now. It is fine and well for us to call for creators of content to rise up and take control. But it is a far, far different thing to get people to do that.

In my experience, most teachers are still in the learning phase...and I would say that leaves them in the lurker phase.

Simple project like the Comment and web 2.0 wednesdays give small bites of new learning that may move people into becoming more active. But we still have a long way to go in moving the Web into percpetions that the Web is interactive rather than a passive tool.

Marsha, your comment on the web as an active vs. a passive "tool" is interesting. By definition, a tool is something that you use--you don't just sit and passively look at it. I think that people have primarily compared the web to TV, something that is there for passive receipt of information or entertainment. It's not like a typewriter or an audio recorder where you actually create something. So maybe the first step is getting people to see the Web as a tool and then moving them into the different ways of using that tool.

Michele, I suspect labeling other people as "lurkers" is less helpful than noticing when I'm lurking and why. I've joined the mob of "lurkers" when I'm not adding comments like this or creating posts on my blog.

Lurking is a good thing when it's reflective or exploratory or observant. My motivations constantly change. I know that when I am not playing the part of actor or creator, I don't need more content to process or tools to use, I need more time to process what's already been taken in. Giving people validation to lurk like I am in this comment, will turn fewer people off than profiling them/us.

Tom, using the term lurker is probably a turn-off, period, and a habit I need to get out of. "Spectator," as they use in Groundswell, has a nicer ring to it.

I'm probably coming off stronger than I mean to here in that I'm not trying to say that you must be creating all of the time. That's clearly not only impossible, but, as you point out, doesn't allow us to observe or reflect.

What I'm really trying to get at here is that I'm increasingly aware that it's the people who are in creator mode on a regular basis, as opposed to being merely passive recipients, who are the ones who are doing the best in our economy. I feel like we need to shake people up, have them lose their shackles of passivity, and help them see that there's empowerment here.

And frankly, even though for you being a spectator may be a form of observation or reflection, I'm not sure that this is what it represents for a lot of other people. Even reflection and observation imply some level of action/interaction with information that I'm not sure is always going on.

My goal (as I know yours is too) is to help people figure out that optimal mix of being a spectator and being and actor. Easier said than done, clearly.

I get a lot out of my lurking behavior. There is no end to the inspirational sparks online. I'm feeling more ambivalent about being a creator. I just don't have the type of mind that comes up with content that engages lots of other people. So it may be a lot more satisfying when you have an engaged following like you do?

I'm also feeling spread out in a way that is getting uncomfortable. Seems like there is a new community starting every week, all interesting, all things I would like to participate in, but I'm having trouble finding the time. So yes, finding the balance is getting more challenging all the time.

Great clarification of your/our intentions Michele! Perhaps the solution to "matching the scaffolding to where the person is at" could come about by labels the people can identify with. Then they could self-select where to start and which scaffolding to use - and avoid getting labeled in the process. One idea I had would be to match up with how they are feeling (which will equate with whether or not they are contributing). Here's some possible categories:
1. Feeling lost, bewildered, confused by what you're taking in, supposed to be understanding, etc.
2. Feeling silenced, speechless, blanked out by other's expertise, superiority, etc.
3. Feeling engaged, curious, motivated to jump in an add comments, questions, etc.
4. Feeling confident, expressive, valuable enough to generate some content, useful ideas, etc.

Kia ora Michele

You are right about "that's like sitting in a classroom and saying that we're content with having someone just sit there and quietly listen." And I'm not advocating that we should be complacent about our teaching practices either. I'm just not so sure about what you say next, "a very tiny minority might leave the classroom and do something with what they learned".

The fact is, Michele, many students who do that also learn - and they can learn lots. Testimony to that is myself and all my contemporaries who likewise learned in the school I attended. In the environment where we were taught, you were sent out of the class if you didn't sit, shut up and listen.

I think today's educators need to think long and hard about how children learn. There is a whole generation of people my age who, according to some of the theory bandied about today, would not have had a dog's chance of learning anything. Well if that's true then I learned nothing at school.


From the very earliest age, children learn. They are like vacuum cleaners, for they are capable of picking up anything and everything that they can make sense of and a whole lot besides.

The LMS I was referring to, with genuine distance learners, is the only tool available at present for scratching anything like a technoprofile for a distance learner. I'm not talking about kids in class here. I'm talking about my 150 - 200 students all over New Zealand and some in other countries throughout the globe who are potential e-learners. I can't even talk to some over the phone for they're not on the phone or near a school. That's one reason why they are distance learners. That also describes my cohort of students. An good LMS (with statistical features)is the only device that can let me know where in an e-environment the logged-on students are visiting and when that happens. Without that, I learn nothing about their behaviour.

This was one of my reservations I had about what I'd learnt from participating in the recent Comment Challenge.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

I had a feeling when I ended the post as I did that the conversation would go off in the direction of whether or not lurking is "ok." :-)

Ken, I hear you on what you're saying and again, I didn't mean to imply that there isn't a place for being a spectator online. There definitely is. Obviously you're not going to interact with or comment on every single thing that you read or see and most of us spend large amounts of our time just reading or viewing material without interacting with it. Like Christine said, you can get a lot out of doing that and I most definitely see a place for it.

My point is that eventually, and in this evolving world I'd say sooner rather than later, we need to engage with all this information in order to make meaning of it for ourselves. Although any of us may absorb information by being a spectator, to deepen our learning and our mastery of a subject, we have to DO something with it. For me, this is part of reflective professional practice and where social media can do so much to enhance that experience. We can only go so far as spectators.

Tom, I like your idea of using people's feelings to help them diagnose where they're at and as we discussed before, you make a good point about the issue of labeling. Being called a "lurker" sounds vaguely creepy and not surprisingly, most people will resist that label. But if they can use something like your levels of feeling, that might be more helpful.

This is a great discussion--it's really helping me to better clarify my thinking on this. . .

Kia ora Michele,

Some time ago I listened to a well-meaning principal of a school attempting to convince his staff that the task we had as teachers was to get all the students below the median line on the bell curve of student abilities into the space above the median line.

If you know anything about standard distribution curves this suggestion was simply a nonsense. But it's not unlike the idea of creating fully active and contributing participants out of the 90% or more people who are passive observers on the Net.

Considering that nearly all of astronomy (not astrology!) was studied by passive observation until very recent times and before probes and communication robots were put on other objects in the solar system, it is amazing that we ever managed to learn anything about the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, or other far-off places in the universe.

One of the greatest observers of all time was Leonardo da Vinci. I wonder what he would have done given the opportunity that I have to read the blogs on the net?

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Hi Ken--I feel like I'm somehow not being clear. Again, I'm not saying that there isn't an important place for observation and being a spectator. There most definitely is. But people like Leonardo, etc. eventually did something with their observations. All I'm suggesting is that we try to persuade people that participation is a part of being online and that we help them see how a balance of observation and participation can deepen their learning.

Kia ora Michele

I think that if you are looking for worthwhile advice on this subject (the sort you can get from comments on a blog for instance so that you can learn) ask a teacher who has had many years of experience with both online students and those in the classroom.

My advice is:

EITHER do this, rather than re-invent the wheel by coming up with some untried, untested theoretical hypothesis

OR become a teacher and spend 8 to 10 years working with online students and perhaps another 25 years or so teaching in a classroom. That's what I did. But I think that even over 3 to 5 years teaching students online, there would be ample scope for you to test the hypothesis you are putting forward while facilitating the education of children and young adults.

Ka kite

Hi Ken--now I'm a little confused--what are you thinking I should be doing? Backing off on trying to find ways to encourage people to be active participants in online communities? I feel like I've lost track a little of where this conversation was going.

Kia ora Michele

The watchword is tread warily with lurkers - my metaphor about the trout. Why? Simply because they are always in the majority and they invariably will not (and I repeat will not) move over to creator/participant in the way a coin can be flipped over.

An extreme assumption is that lurkers learn nothing online - you have embraced the idea that this is flawed. Marcy Bauman has some important messages that I won't deliberate on here but they are to do with more than just attitude, personality etc. It is complex and has to be analysed carefully lest the lure is twitched and you lose the chance. That's waht I'm trying to convey here.

As an online learning facilitator one has to weight up carefully what these possibilities could lead to and they don't all lead to learning successes. A balance is what a good classroom teacher attempts to reach to get optimum success from the group. Online is even more difficult. Bauman clearly defines the differences between classroom, online and classroom, and strictly online. They are three completely different environments, despite the ll-to-obvious connections, and for a raft of reasons. Bauman is good with those. See the link in my first comment on this post.

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