When I worked as director of publications at the Soil and Water Conservation Society, I set up the SWCS network. Within minutes of invitations being sent out, people started joining, posting information, and forming groups on a variety of topics of interest to them—conservation photography, water quality monitoring, cover crops, etc.
The networking technology was a necessary component, but one of the most interesting aspects of the network was the social experience. Members of the network began voluntarily taking on the responsibility of welcoming other new members. Old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, separated by geography, “bumped into each other” in forums in which they shared an interest.
The content generated in the network was user-centered. The old model of experts delivering information to audiences was, in this context, replaced by a network of individuals sharing information according to the needs of the network members.
So, I started thinking, social networks are social and technological, but are they educational? To answer that question, I had to start to understand the concept of social learning.