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Education and the Social Web. Connective Learning and the Commercial Imperative
By Norm Friesen, Thompson Rivers University,nfriesen@tru.ca[CC: BY, ND]
Biographical Note:Dr. Norm Friesen is Canada Research Chair in ELearning Practices at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Friesen is author of ReThinking ELearning Research: Foundations, Methods and Practices (Peter Lang, 2009), Supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) scholarships and grants since 2003, Dr. Friesen is presently undertaking funded research in media theory and multiple literacies.
In recent years, new sociallyoriented Web technologies have been portrayed as placing the learner at the centre of networks of knowledge and expertise, potentially leading to new forms of learning and education. In this paper, I argue that commercial social networks are much less about circulating knowledge than they are about connecting users (“eyeballs”) with advertisers; it is not the autonomous individual learner, but collective corporate interests that occupy the centre of these networks. Looking first at Facebook, Twitter, Digg and similar services, I argue their business model restricts their information design in ways that detract from learner control and educational use. I also argue more generally that the predominant “culture” and corresponding types of content on services like those provided Google similarly privileges advertising interests at the expense of users. Just as commercialism has rendered television beyond the reach of education, commercial pressures threaten to seriously limit the potential of the social Web for education and learning.
Introduction: New Learning in a 2.0 Web
Web 2.0 and online social networking have been the subject of sustained and lively interest among “YouarenotFacebook’spractitioners and promoters of educational technology customer.Youaretheproductfor some time. Provocative labels like “connective thattheyselltotheirreallearning“ (Downes, 2006), “elearning 2.0” (Downes, 2005), “education 2.0” (Selwyn, 2008), and “socialcustomersadvertisers.ForgetLearning 2.0” (Anderson and Dron, 2007) have been thisatyourperil.”SteveGreenbergused to characterize what is seen as the radical potential of these services for learning. The implication, of course is that these technologies will introduce radically new “versions” of learning and education, rendering previous forms obsolete –just as a new release of an application superannuates the old. Social networking is so central to these new versions of education that a new “connectivist” theory of learning has come to be closely associated with them (Downes, 2006). This is a theory in which “knowing” itself is seen to be “defined by connections” making “learning primarily a network forming process” (Siemens, 2006, p. 15). Like other technical innovations before them, these new forms are described in terms of the liberation of learners from traditional constraints, as allowing them
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