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Fixing “WBT” Courseware with Social Media

February 19, 2009

I was just talking with some co-workers — Geophrey, Jody, Jim, Eve — about the real value of our Embedded Model (social media *in* a WBT), and I think I realized how best to talk about this.  Here is the basic gist:  when we moved to WBT, we saved a ton of money from travel costs, opportunity costs, training rooms and facilities.  But we also broke the instructional paradigm in some pretty fundamental ways:

  • We all but eliminated interactivity, immersion, and engagement.
  • We removed all social networking and the fun part about interacting with colleagues.
  • We dramatically reduced the benefits from social learning that came from diversity of perspective, sharing of real world experience, and the general ebb and flow of live training.

While we have improved the engagement of some WBT in recent years through simulations (our Firefly tool, NextLearn’s SimWriter), games (our Publisher tool), and embedded interactions (Harbinger’s Raptivity), we have done very little to address social networking, fun, and all the social learning that derived from sharing and connecting during class.

Embedding social media inside a WBT course provides a mechanism to fix all this.  In our new Publisher release, we can embed Comments on any page in the course which can provide a way for learners to share ideas and perspectives on what they are learning.  We also enable the embedding of a Blog which can be left entirely “open” so that any learner can post, partially open so that learners can post but with final approval of posts from the course owner, and closed so that only the content owner can post.  These blog options, particularly the first, provide a way for learners to easily share best practices in the context of what they are learning.  In either case, whether the learner posts a comment or a full blog post, he or she is now contributing to the original material and extending it in ways that may prove even more useful than it was in a classroom setting.  In a classroom, the info was shared and then hopefully remembered.  In this Embedded Model, it’s shared and stored, which enables easier search and retrieval and extension by others.

There are lots of other social elements we’ve added like the embedding of Blog RSS feeds into a course and the easy embedding of YouTube video.  We enable Ratings to be associated with any object in the course.  There is a lot to this release, but the ability for learners to share Comments and Blog posts within the context of the formal learning provides for some really, really interesting integrations between formal and social learning.  And I think it helps overcome one of the long-standing issues in the adoption of WBT.  It might not totally solve the social deficiencies of  WBT, but it’s certainly a big step up from where we are today.

What do you think?  How could we take advantage of interactive comments, blogs, and ratings in a WBT?

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