In my last blog post I completed my review of the internet as a learning prosthetic, a collection of learning resources and tools that has the power to satisfy Asimov’s dream of computer-assisted learning where, “everyone can have a teacher in the form of access to the gathered knowledge of the human species.” If the internet can function like a teacher or a personal tutor, then it will do so mostly through our social interactions with other people who we are linked to by way of the internet. We all collaborate via the internet so as to function as each other’s teachers.
If this model of online learning is valid, then a fundamentally important skill for each of us, as online learners, is using the available internet tools to build and maintain a personal social network that facilitates progress along our individual learning paths. For convenience, I’m going to divide online social networking into two parts. “Part one” is exploration of the internet, finding useful learning tools and people with shared interests and making robust connections for communication with those people. “Part two” is using the resources that you have found on the internet. In this blog post I want to focus on the web 2.0 issue of what we put on the internet and how we share it with others.
If we are all forming and using online learning communities then how do we efficiently share our knowledge with each other via the internet? We have many tools for sharing knowledge via the internet including email, discussion forums, chat systems, wiki websites and blogs. For this post I’m going to focus on ways to share knowledge by blogging.
The Long Tail
Technorati‘s “State of the Blogosphere 2009” provides some useful information about how people are using blogs. The sample of bloggers that is described in their annual report is skewed, but even in this biased sample most bloggers report that they blog for personal satisfaction. Use of blogging as a learning tool does not require any other motivation. Even when we are not trying to share knowledge with others it is useful to be reflective and write down what we are thinking about. By exposing your inner thoughts to the world you create opportunities for others to discover that they share your interests and that can lead to new online contacts and expansion of your social learning network.
Can other people find your blog? Google has instructions for making sure that your blog can be found by way of their search engine. Another way to allow people to discover your blog is to use microblogging websites such as Twitter. I routinely tweet about my blog posts and I usually mark those tweets with these tags: #fiction #SciFi #writing. I’ve been using Bit.ly to shorten the URLs of my blog posts and I can see a record of how many Twitter users have followed my tweets to view my blog posts (this averages about 7; thanks mom and dad!).
The image above shows part of my Facebook wall and you can see two different ways of publishing a blog post. In this case, the NetworkedBlogs Facebook application was significantly faster than the Blog/RSS option that was published by the method shown below:
I feel like the NetworkedBlogs application has advantages, but when I tried to use it to publish this new blog (Collaborative Learning) to my Facebook wall, the application would not work with FireFox v3.6 for the mac. Unfortunately, that is a rather typical example of my usual experiences while trying to utilize existing social networking software. Everything is so new and changing so rapidly that there are significant ease-of-use issues that inhibit people from adopting these new learning technologies.
These examples (above) show some of the current complexity that exists in sharing knowledge on the internet. It is fun and informative to search for blogs that are related to my personal interests, but I feel that the existing tools for sharing blog posts and searching for blog content are cumbersome and inefficient. I hope that in coming years the entire process of using internet tools such as blogs for networking and online social learning will be improved. Currently, it takes more work than it should to share our knowledge with others who share our interests and learning goals.