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Social Media based learning from a European perspective: A Framework for Social Innovation

7 March 2014

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Stuart Mitchell
27 February 2014

Stuart Mitchell & Dr Bastian Pelka

Gloucestershire College, UK & Technical University of Dortmund, Germany

This paper presents our experience in developing an online curriculum dedicated to promoting the use of social media in an educational context on a European scale. We describe ‘social media based learning’ as a new form of using old technology. Our focus is not based on the technology itself but rather the engagement with technology that positions this as a social innovation. The term “social innovation” describes new intentional social practices that are aiming at better satisfying or answering needs and problems. “An innovation is therefore social to the extent that it is socially accepted and diffused (…)” (Howaldt, J. & Schwarz, M. 2010: 26).

We do not suggest that this approach will predict the next application or means of communication that will arise to be the primary server of our networking needs, but rather we suggest that this project will provide an inroad to shape our future (Hochgerner, J. 2010, preface in Howaldt and Schwarz: i).

The paper uses this perspective to discuss the new form of connected social learning, using social media as a social innovation that allows people (even those with low ICT skills) to interact, create and alter content. We explain our understanding of social media as a learning environment, as a space. This space is shared with others as a communal collaborative environment, and we understand this sharing as learning.

We are mindful that this space does not simply appear, and as if by magic is engaged with as intended, but rather that a degree of support is required to facilitate engagement, as Zimmer et al expand:

“people need enough individual support, so that they feel safe enough to engage in open communication, so that they can arrive at enough shared vision, to be able to do things together.” (Zimmer, Harris & Muirhead, 2000: 3-4)

This is true whether those participating are self acknowledged novices or experts in social media learning.

The basis of this paper surrounds the intentions, implementations and outcomes of the ongoing EU funded Comenius project “Learn to Teach by Social Web” (L2T – which sets out to exploit the educational potential that social media offers teachers in engaging their learners in contextual development of skills and knowledge through an ‘alternative’ or unfamiliar learning paradigm. In this case the use of social media becomes the ‘alternative’ collaborative tool that allows participants to engage in innovative learning environments, existing both inside and outside of the classroom.

The discussion held within this project is clearly aware that social media has existed for many years, and furthermore that our learners have been engaged in their use for as long. We also recognize however that this does not suggest that neither learners, nor teachers are comfortable with using such technology in a learning environment.

From our small scale research in 2012 (253 respondents across 7 partner countries) we found over two thirds of new or trainee teachers were not confident in the use of e-learning platforms (such as Moodle or BlackBoard) and over three quarters felt uncomfortable with the use of social networking (such as Facebook and Twitter). This indicated to us that there was little or no correlation between our perceived engagement in social/personal use of technology and engagement with technology for learning.

We will discuss the ‘space’ created by the project to build an interactive curriculum guiding all learners through the development and implementation of a range of social media based learning approaches.

This space provides users, both teachers and, through facilitation, the students themselves, with the support required to participate in the collaborative activity of developing effective teaching and learning environments. This runs parallel with Kaletka and Pelka’s description of Web 2.0 in general, suggesting it as:

“social innovation that has the potential to influence the way people work, communicate and participate. Furthermore, it fits the upcoming challenges of modern information society with work that has to be fast, cooperative, incremental and dialogue based.” (Kaletka, C & Pelka, B. 2011: 273)

This is a theme at the heart of the ‘Learn 2 Teach by Social Web’ project, offering a space for teachers to communicate their feelings, apprehensions, insights and stories with others across a wide range of subject areas and locations throughout Europe. This dialogue is one that the project aims to develop beyond the life cycle of the curriculum itself, again relating to the nature of social innovations shaping the future.

This proposal also realizes that a wealth of resources are already available to educators, however, the majority of these are set up by the few for the many, often by experts for novices. We suggest however that social learning works better the more people are involved, and the more heterogeneous the users are.

The homogeneous user groups of 20 years ago could not initiate learning spaces of sufficient size and quality, as they numbered too few and their interests were too focused. With the spread of easy to use technology, the demography of the social media user has arrived at a societal average. Many participants in this ‘average’ have stories to tell, ideas to make and support to give, albeit with reservations of how to present this information to like-minded peers.

The environment we are creating is based on a wiki structure, allowing a community of teachers to share ideas and innovation, offering best and safest practice. The space can be shaped or tailored for the specific needs of those who wish to engage. Enabling this target group to participate brings with it different challenges, such as making the information easy to engage with and fighting the fear that ‘new’ ideas often bring with them.

Along with these challenges however, come multiple benefits. More users generate more and more heterogeneous content, thus providing a societal aspect that in turn allows individuals and communities to bridge the ‘digital divide’.

In this proposed paper we will explore how the challenges and benefits have unfolded as the L2T project develops, offering insight to future collaborative projects embracing social media across a European context.


Howaldt, J. & Schwarz, M. (2010) ‘Social Innovation: Concepts, research fields and international trends’, IMO International Monitoring (available at Trendstudie_Howaldt_englisch_Final ds.pdf)

Kaletka, C & Pelka, B. (2011) ‘Web 2.0 revisited: user‐generated content as a social innovation’, International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, Volume 5, Numbers 2-3, October 2011 , pp. 264-275

Zimmer, B., Harris, R. & Muirhead, B., 2000 ‘Building an Online Community’, in Higgison, C. A. (ed.), Online Tutoring e-Book, chapter 3. Available online at:

Extra content

A slideshow/prezi link will appear here shortly to expand on the project and respond accordingly to peer review.

Stuart Mitchell
23:02 on 27 February 2014

Embedded Content

BIIML2014 Mitchell-Pelka

BIIML2014 Mitchell-Pelka

added by Stuart Mitchell


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