Insights on Social Media, eLearning and Education in the Philippines
As an aggressive advocate of distance education in the country, our company constantly involves itself in creating applications, meeting with schools, giving free training, creating focus group discussions and talking to the academe that allow eLearning to quickly penetrate the snail-paced utilization of technology in our schools. In this tedious process, I've encountered long stretches of painful stumbling blocks and challenging walls - such as the willingness and acceptance of teachers, irresponsibility of students for independent learning, change management, bandwidth and infrastructure, lack of content, and lack of political will among other things.
Lately, I've come to realize that millions of Filipinos are on Facebook (and others), both young people and not-so-young people, which means that we easily catch up on technology to communicate, just like the texting phenomena that swept the nation several years ago. This tells me that the wall is not in the availability of infrastructure, because as users we find ways to access it.
Because of this, I've come up with several insights how social media applications and education are tightly linked together to nurture the growth of social learning - and hopefully help others realize too, that this is the key to the essential evolution of our educational system.
1. Kids of this generation are always in front of the computer, so why not bring learning to them?
The kids nowadays (or what I would call the Facebook generation) are called the Generation Y. After school, instead of going out to play patintero or sports, they go straight to their laptop to play online games or log on to their social media account to catch up with their friends. They don't open their thick books anymore. To accomplish their homework, they surf Google. They get their facts not from Britannica, but from blogs written by experts or from Wikipedia. These kids have a very short attention span. They want information bite-sized and available wherever-whenever. They have developed their own language, writing in shortcuts that the older generation wouldn't be able to understand such as "LOL", "WTH", "ROFL" or ":)". They learn faster by watching a video, and can quickly sift content and information available on the web, to view things that are only applicable to them. They also believe in what their friends post or say, even sharing this to their friends, accepting this information as a fact. This type of Generation Y mentality or "skill" has to be harnessed and organized into what we can call social learning - bringing the formal education to their informal environment where they are comfortable. However, it must be facilitated by credible mentors who are also adept in doing this online, and understands the behavior of the Generation Y students.
2.We've learned so many things from social networks by watching videos, photos and links posted by our friends - why not organize all of these for formal learning?
Nothing can be more current than the web.
With a wide and intricate network of information and users, sooner or later, a certain video will reach your wall post. In fact, there are so much content out there, not everything is shown to you, but only things that are relevant to you. Social media has become more than just "what I ate for breakfast". It has become a virtual place where there is real feedback from peers, insights from credible users and integration of current, real time information from institutional sources. This is done through integrated social application that include blogging, wikis, discussion boards, real time-chat, social bookmarking, video conferencing, news feeds and online reference tools among other things.
If programming code can sort out information for you, why not mentor-facilitated content? More and more, we are moving from teacher to student instruction, to a more reflective and collaborative learning-teaching environment.
INFORMAL LEARNING + FORMAL LEARNING = SOCIAL LEARNING
3. The quiet person you never spoke to in college, posts insightful things on Facebook. Can people speak their minds more online?
I have found this quite a valid insight - seeing a lot of striking, borderline rebellious comments in Facebook from those timid and unassuming students back in the day. Could we create more innovative genius content by minimizing physical contact? Could that person who was afraid to raise his hands in class, suddenly asks intriguing questions for the teaching community online? I personally believe that the essential key to successful teaching and learning is through constant collaboration - student to teacher to teacher to student. The stumbling block in face to face is the shyness or the fear of our ideas being rejected by people, but with social media, communication is so dynamic because there is no hesitation to express our thoughts. We minimize physical contact BUT eliminate isolation.
Spark collaboration by minimizing physical contact and eliminating isolation.
4. A teacher says "I am a teacher, and I saw that most of my students are talking about art and music in the social networks. Should I refocus my lesson plan?"
Why are the web companies making so much money from online advertising? Because they know their users. With all the data they have, they can actually post a certain advertisement on your profile page that is only applicable to you. They know your preferences in music, sports, philosophy - and that is because of all the posts you have made, and information that you have willingly updated on your profile. Imagine what kind of intelligence a teacher can gather just by checking out a particular student's data from a social media application. With this information, he can actually adjust or alter his lesson plan to suit the needs of a student, therefore creating a better, effective learning environment for better information retention. Not only that, the social application can do it automatically for the teacher. All he needs to do is facilitate it.
The world is fast moving from Web 2.0 (Content + Social Media + Collaboration) to Web 3.0 (Content + Social Media + Collaboration + Analytics). Our Philippine educational system when it comes to technology is still lingering between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. We are hoping to jumpstart this and catapult our schools to the level we want to be, and that's with the rest of the world.
Build better curriculums with better insights to create better students.
5. The Philippines became the #1 texting capital. Now the #1 Social network capital. What can't we be #1 in education technology?
The lack of a sound network infrastructure is not an excuse for not utilizing technology in education. To send a text message, you need a cellphone. Now even the jeepney driver has a cellphone, just to be able to communicate. Students cut class to play online games in a nearby Internet Cafe (and these are sprouting everywhere in the country), which means lack of financial resources cannot be an excuse as well. The telcos give unlimited Internet for a very small amount of money through any 3G enabled device (which is getting really cheaper by the month.) This just reaffirms that technology is very accessible in the country by a percentage of the population. Even if that's 10%, we should give that 10% the opportunity to be able to experience learning through technology.
We are not afraid of technology. In fact, we come in large crowds.
6. I just learned more about Einstein's theory of relativity by watching a video on YouTube recently more than by reading a book about it more than a decade ago.
This is actually a true story. I was browsing through YouTube one day, and I saw a video simply explaining how Einstein's very difficult theory of relativity is related to GPS. I couldn't believe how simple the concept was. Bandwidth has improved so much that any large-sized blocks of data can now be streamed effortlessly through digital lines, even to households - that it makes it possible to learn about something visually, rather than by reading lines of text. And if there was something I didn't understand, I could connect to the person who uploaded the video, and get more information. How often do we decide to purchase a product over the web by reading the comments and reviews of other people? Pretty much, it's what we rely on nowadays, because that information is readily available in real time.
That's the beauty of social learning.
We haven't changed what we need to learn. Just how we learn.
7. A student said, "My teacher is on my Facebook friend list".
Do you remember the time when you were so afraid to enter the Faculty Room to talk to a teacher? Well, that was during my time. But now, that teacher is on my friend list on Facebook. In fact, even students now have their current teachers on Facebook. I saw a blog post before that makes fun of the teacher as a "calamity" particularly as an earthquake. Apparently, this teacher was a terror when it comes to giving exams. The funny thing is, that blog post became an online countdown to the final exam, where all the students are connected posting comments on it as the D-day was nearing. The amazing thing is, unconsciously, everyone was reviewing for the exam within the particular blog post. And yes, the teacher was part of it, playing along.
It was amazing how social media sparked this kind of a learning experience for students in a particular class who are all in different locations. Not only that, teachers learn from other teachers as well. And admittedly, teachers will learn from students as well.
We are all connected whether we like it or not.
8. Socialization Ignites Passion
Filipinos are very social people. We perpetually crave to be part of communities. We tend to group ourselves together based on our interests and passions. This is why we have associations and organizations sprouting left and right like wild mushrooms. Social media has made it even easier. Intelligence filtering systems can connect you to people of the same interests so fast, that your online groups grow in numbers overnight. Once you are connected to people who think the same way you do, passion for your chosen field ignites, therefore learning increases. We love to share information to people, if we know that these people we are sharing to will appreciate it.
We are addicted to comments and notifications! Why do we check our social network accounts everyday? Is it not to check likes or comments? Real time notifications to all our mobile phones, emails and other devices allow us to be in touch with our social groups. Before, if someone had a comment about a certain issue about a topic or project, he had to wait until the next day to bring it up in class. Now, I get notified for any updates in my class through the web or the mobile phone, and immediately can act on it.
Learning is no longer just knowledge transfer. It's about being constantly connected to communities for learning.
9. A student says, "My mind is more active at 12 midnight."
Try going online on your favorite social network past midnight, and you will see several people still there chatting and posting messages. The web space has no opening or closing time. It is a perpetual machine. You are connected to people 24/7. In my experience, a lot of students' creativity suddenly mutates late at night, just like singers' voices open up late at night too. That's why most album recordings happen in the evenings. eLearning allows you to connect to people and resources when it's already too late to call people. It is silent but effective.
The beauty of eLearning is that it doesn't matter what time it is. Students can keep repeating lessons, keep practicing review questions, and constantly connect with people.
eLearning is going to class in my pajamas.
10. eLearning as a benefit, rather than a cost center.
Some schools in the Philippines, not properly oriented, will definitely see Social Learning as a cost center, but personally, I know that it is will minimize administrative costs both in the short and long run. Imagine the cost of one day in a school - electricity, paper, printer ink, food, miscellaneous expenses, utilities - will be reduced, but learning will be increased and maximized.
A certain school in Manila has already implemented what I would call a huge step in education here in the country. Students are not required to go to school two Fridays in a month. Instead, they will stay home during those days (or wherever they are) to do their study/homework online. I can foresee heaps of advantages for this, not just the money savings for the school. Students will be able to spend more time with their families and at the same time, have more knowledge about the theoretical facts before an actual classroom activity, and sharpen independent learning skills.
11. Social Media has sparked the transformation and addition of roles for almost all people.
I've witnessed a lot of role transformations and role additions in the social networks, even among friends and peers. Friend A is a call center manager, but uses Facebook to sell gadgets online through wall posts. Friend B, who is a nurse, uses social media to get students for her online English tutoring. Friend C who is a day trader, has become an activist with thousands of followers on his fan page. The convenience of administering content online, as well as its limitless network reach, has made people realize that they can go beyond what they currently do. Imagine what this can do to student portfolios, projects, and activities - and how it can develop their full potential.
12. Close involvement of all stakeholders, and the ability to get out of the closed circle.
In the learning cycle of a student, many people are involved - the teacher-mentor, the administrator, the parent, the third party experts, and the classmates. With the advent of collaborative systems, the geographical gap between them has been greatly narrowed. Parents can now connect to their children's teachers online, even if they are OFW parents. Schools can invite experts in the field to blog in the school's eLearning social network in order to allow students to comment and learn about current trends from a real world professional.
More importantly, however, students are able to reach out to a diverse culture globally, without having to fly out of the country to experience it. More than ever, we are able to get out of our school circle, and learn from outside this circle - and the web is the only way we can do it.
13. A teacher say, "eLearning will replace us!" Why, will Facebook replace you?
Social networks, just like any other type of web application, are made up of thousands of lines called programming code constructed by brilliant human beings. Users like us are the other intelligent beings who log on to these applications, and post content regularly. Without us, the social network cannot survive. Without us punching in our content each day, Facebook will be just an empty shell. So let's look at the analogy for a second. If Facebook is a reflection of "you", will it eventually replace "you"? Of course not. Same goes for eLearning. As a matter of fact, the teachers are the champions of eLearning. It is their content, instructional design and follow through that will make social learning effective for the students.
There are just some insights I have on social media and eLearning in the country. We are working towards making an impact on education, hopefully in a big way.
I'm really excited that we are about to implement Social Learning in several schools this month, including deploying Virtual Campus to 620 home schoolers in the country, and integrating several schools in Muntinlupa. Please contact me if you are interested in this topic, or you would like to learn more.