According to a recent European Commission report, social media are increasingly being applied in educational contexts. However, little research has yet been conducted on their use in education settings, and the number of practical applications is currently negligible. The small number of existing applications is limited to regular, formal education. So what about applications for the adult education sector? Researchers in this domain are often far-removed from day-to-day practice and lack perspective on real-world applications. Although the potential of social media is frequently mentioned, concrete follow-up initiatives seem few and far between.
How to spark interaction?
I am not necessarily referring to the myriad forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but to how they spark interaction among learners and between learners and their supervisors. Practical use is key here, rather than the technology itself. Adults with low-level education are often active on mobile platforms and social media. They use Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp, read texts and play games. However, no links with educational use and needs have been established so far.
How can we apply social media to help people use language effectively in their day-to-day lives? With less formal solutions, offering the sort of easy-to-use applications that people actually need, and an emphasis on shared – social – learning. These applications should be supported by short film clips and easy-to-understand language. Bite-sized chunks of knowledge, information and skills: the type of learning that actually helps people get ahead in life.
Can we develop smart uses for existing technologies? Which ones are suitable, can they be applied or adapted to quickly connect people, and how could they then be supported? By volunteers perhaps? Why not harness a technique such as the Amber Alert to facilitate bite-sized learning? Such a system could be used to identify and notify groups of affiliated members, offering a practical method whereby participants learn in close physical proximity with the support of a virtual circle that offers asynchronous and synchronised assistance.
So where do we find the necessary knowledge and practical experience to benefit the adult education sector? I would like to invite all of you to help us develop new solutions in this area so that we can rapidly transition to small-scale applications that yield practical experience. In fact, why not join forces at European level?
Ben Vaske is director of the Expertise Centre ETV.nl in the Netherlands. ETV.nl offers its materials through the portal Oefenen.nl (Practise.nl also available in English), a portal specifically developed for lower educated (young) adults who want to improve their basic skills. ETV.nl aims at individual adults in non-formal and informal settings.