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Can Twitter really be used for learning?

Did you know that Twitter has been  consistently voted as the top learning tool used by learning professionals all around the world since 2009 (Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, n.d.)?

When I first signed up for a Twitter account in 2009, I had no idea I could use it as a learning tool. I thought it was daft, but signed up anyway, just before I embarked on a year of solo travel. It was my way of allowing my slightly over-anxious parents keep tabs of my whereabouts. I am not the world’s best correspondent, but I could manage periodic short sentences so my parents wouldn’t feel compelled to contact an embassy to find my whereabouts.  I micro-blogged, essentially.

It was not until I returned to Australia in late 2010 that I began to note the potential of Twitter as a learning tool, when I stumbled across The Top 100 Tools for Learning, an annual survey of learning tools conducted and compiled by Jane Hart at the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. That year, 545 learning professionals (Hart, 2010) considered Twitter as one of their top 10 learning tools.

“Interesting,” I thought then. “I best take another look at Twitter.”

Hidi and Renninger (2006) wrote that a learner’s interest influences their attention, their goals and their levels of learning. They proposed the Four-Phase Model of Interest Development, which consisted of the following:

  • Phase 1: situational interest
  • Phase 2: maintained situational interest
  • Phase 3: emerging individual interest
  • Phase 4: well developed individual interest

A learner progresses through four phases sequentially only when their interest is supported and sustained, either by others or the challenges or opportunities the learners sees (Hidi & Renninger, 2006). Interest wanes or disappears without these conditions.

The way I see it, when an individual’s interest in a topic is sustained and supported, their engagement increases. The longer they are engaged, the more likely learning occurs. Hence, as many teachers would attest, triggering interest is a key element to learning.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the 2010 Top 100 Tools for Learning was a trigger. It was the situational interest required for me to start my exploration with understanding how web 2.0 technologies could be used for learning. The exploration, via the passive consumption of the resources, insights and information shared by the people I followed on Twitter is Phase 2.  My Twitter feed helps me monitor current trends and access current thinking about the use of web 2.0 technologies for learning.

By my not so scientific reckoning, I am likely in Phase 3 in Hidi and Renninger’s Four-Phase Model of Interest Development. Hidi and Renninger (2006) wrote that for Phase 3: emerging individual interest, external supports are required. These, they said, could be peers or experts who would contribute to increased understanding. Phase 3 of Hidi and Reinnger’s model also included application of the knowledge gained, by reengaging in tasks relating to the interest.  In the context of Twitter, I believe this translates  to active engagement with the people I follow, and reflecting with a community or perhaps overlapping communities of practice. In practical terms, this would be sharing insights after testing an idea and asking for feedback and comment from the community of practice I’m part of.

Participation in an active community of practice on a social networking site like Twitter maintains interest in a topic. Sustained interest promotes engagement. The deeper or longer the engagement, the more learning occurs.

So, can Twitter be used for learning?  I believe it can –  if you’re targeted with the people you follow. The value of Twitter is the community that could be built up, from which to trigger, support and sustain your learning.  Surround yourself with like minded people, who continually provide a flow of information and knowledge, and it’s likely deep engagement would occur as indicated by Hidi and Renninger (2006).

For example, Domizi (2013) studied the use of Twitter for learning among a group of multidisciplinary graduate students studying teaching and  pedagogy. The students were asked to post at least one reflection on the content they were studying per week. The reflections could be seen to trigger situational interest among the students.  If students were asked to comment thoughtfully on each other’s reflections, a community of learners will gradually emerge. This was what Domizi (2013) discovered. The students used Twitter to connect to what they were learning, and received peer feedback on the teaching strategies they were experimenting with. What strengthened the community, it seems, however, was what Domizi (2013) termed “social tweets”, tweets that were of personal nature.  

Tool for learning, it may be, but how effective is Twitter as a learning tool?  Why micro-blog on Twitter, when you can blog?

Further research and reflection required.

References

Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (n.d), Top 100 Tools for Learning: #1 – Twitter. Retrieved from http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/twitter/

Hart, J. (2010), Top 100 tools for Learning 2010, Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/janehart/top100-tools-for-learning-2010

Domizi, D. P. (2013), Microblogging to foster connections and community in a weekly graduate seminar course, Tech Trends, 57(1), 43 – 51.

Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The Four-Phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111-127.

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One thought on “Can Twitter really be used for learning?

  1. I joined twitter ages ago as well and never really used it either, I only used it to enter competitions and stuff when I didn’t want them marketers to know my personal details on facebook.

    So it was only from EDPC5003 that I started using twitter on a regular basis, and I think it was only a few weeks ago during our twitter conversation that the realisation hit me of the usefulness of twitter. I’m now motivated to go on twitter daily and have found it to contain really interesting conversation. Obviously there are days where I feel overwhelmed by all the short tweets (way too much status updates), but every once in a while you find a diamond in the rough.

    I definitely think twitter can be used for learning, I mean personally I’m not used to the character limit, but I find it easier than reading a blog because of the shorter and more succinct thinking. However education providers need to realise that its learners are now more tech-savvy and therefore using twitter and other web2.0 applications is what is needed to maintain the interest of students (Thompson, 2007).

    THOMPSON, J. 2007. Is Education 1.0 ready for Web 2.0 students? Innovate, 3.

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