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Learning from Others Mistakes: How Social Media Etiquette Distorts Informal Learning Online

Presentation for the European Conference on Social Media ECSM 2014, University of Brighton, Brighton, 9-11th July 2014. This paper presented in Stream D: Online Learning at 5pm, Thursday 10th July 2014.

Nicola Osborne

on 10 July 2014

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Transcript of Learning from Others Mistakes: How Social Media Etiquette Distorts Informal Learning Online

Learning From Others Mistakes: How Social Media Etiquette Distorts Informal Learning Online
Nicola Osborne
EDINA, University of Edinburgh
European Conference on Social Media ECSM 2014, Brighton, 9-11th July 2014. Presented in Stream D: Online Learning, 5pm, Thursday 10th July 2014
Anecdotal evidence suggests social media are effective as peer learning communities, and are increasingly useful in continuous professional development (CPD).

These spaces are tricky, negotiations of self are complex, ideas of what they are for are not consistent…
“Employers who don’t allow social media in the workplace are shooting themselves in the foot.
I don’t mean Facebook, which should be kept for personal interactions with family, but Twitter and Linked in are more important now than email”

Robin, research participant
“These changes [towards social media sites and interactions] are redefining institutional identities and the manner in which individuals construct their identities within higher education. In effect, higher education communication is increasingly being reorganised through patterns of online personal identity construction, publicity and dissemination.”
Complex performances of self (Goffman 1959) and negotiations of identity come into play in social media, as discussed by Barbour and Marshall (2012):
Voyant Tools' analysis of comments from questionnaires tagged as relating to "dysfunctional learning"
Key Findings
1. Serendipitous learning and scaffolding moments require further examination

2. A learner-led form of on-demand scaffolding is emerging but it is not clear how reliable or robust this is in practice.

3. Etiquette around CPD and social media and assessments of trust need to be better understood.

4. Social Media is perceived by many participants to be permanent, an "on the record" exchange, usually in public.
1. Formally recognise the value of social media as an arena for CPD and professional learning.

2. Encourage or adopt self-aware efforts to seek support and scaffolding.

3. Embrace a culture of accepting error and correction.

4. Reevaluate the relative impact of "permanence" in the online world and consider techniques to manage perceived risk.
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"Flame wars started all of the time on the pregnancy forum I was on and I think that having spent many, many hours watching that happen has made me wary of ever doing such things in a public space where people can easily feel personally attacked. It's always best to take things off privately if you really need to."

Shirley, research participant
Conducted, from October 2011, as part of MSc eLearning Dissertation.

What roles do scaffolded Learning (Vygotsky 1978) and mentoring play in informal learning practice in social media spaces?

RQ2: Are connections and learning opportunities in these informal peer learning social media networks dependent upon existing professional networks and connections and the existence (or not) of physical contact between community participants?

Self completion questionnaire (n=44)

launched 17th October 2011
recruitment via convenience sampling of personal networks via presences on Twitter, Facebook and Google+


SPSS for quantitative data
textual answers manually analysed for common themes using Voodoo Pad wiki to organise strands, informed by “interactive reading” (Dey 1994)

Social media are informal and highly personalised spaces. Tracing evidence that informal peer learning may be taking place is difficult...

Participants could be asked to describe learning moments but it can be hard to pin down what actually constitutes learning (particularly CPD)...

Focusing on Scaffolded Learning, and the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky 1978), allows attention on moments of correction, steers, tangible moments of difficulty and individual learning.
What does learning in social media look like?
What does it mean to participate in public?
Interviews (n=4)

Selected from self-volunteered participants (n=20) in the questionnaire (hard to find skeptical voices)
Conducted via Skype Chat
Long form - scheduled for 60-90mins, most lasted 2 hours.
Extensive reflexive interviewer notes taken in parallel.


Full texts analysed using DeDoose online research tool. Broad themes first with interviewer notes assisting coding.
Second parse to ensure consistency of codings.
Reflexive parse with concept of “transposing data” (Dey 1999) interrogating “what ifs” of the questioning process.
Parallel analysis of extracts made with Voyant Text analysis tool to interrogate key trends.

Risk and reputation in public spaces online
Social media are high stakes spaces...
Some report segmentation of behaviour and identity by social media space/platform.
These may be attempts to manage and differentiate between identities (Goffman 1959), or postmodern selves (Usher, Bryant and Johnston 1997).

But... blurred identities also seen as beneficial, making connection and exchange more personal...
Scaffolding and correction practices
Social media can be seen as a go-to space for information and support, for scaffolding:

"... if I go out and look for it the information is there or comes to me. People are sending this information out to everyone obviously not just me. I have discussed subjects with other professionals and gained great insight which again are discussions I've instigated rather than a specific forum as such. "

Rosemary, research participant
And scaffolding was widely reported...
60% of participants reported offering advice to steer or correct a peer
Almost 80% of participants reported having observed others being advised or corrected in social media

This fits with the significance of
trust and shared gifts
, and issues of authenticity reported by participants. Trust measures are often highly personal in nature, related to negotiations of identity and often based upon previously demonstrated knowledge, advice or sharing...
The Dysfunctional etiquette of public and private correction
"It’s ok as long as you are not criticising people in public. Just stating points of view and facts is ok."

"I try and do it gently - more of a 'hey have you seen this link' rather than a direct 'you are wrong' particularly on a public wall."

RQ: Have you ever offered advice to steer or correct a peer?
"Yes, I did, and they indicated agreement - but I felt badly and wondered if they felt I was being mean"
Public errors, corrected (for well-intentioned empathetic reasons) in private, have significant implications for learning through social media:

Vicarious learners - witness only the error, not the correction or further discussion.
Denies opportunity for extended discussion or debate - or for a steer or correction to be scrutinised and challenged by other peers.
Version of record may be left uncorrected, potential reputational impact over longer term.
Culture of not challenging or engaging in discussion encouraged/reinforced.
Trends around scaffolding emerged from the data
"If I know someone in a friendly capacity as well as in a professional one, I'm probably more likely to be interested in what they're doing and what projects they're sharing".
Laura, Research participant
Full transcript