It is widely accepted that effective learning requires so much more than lectures and note taking. Longstanding learner theories argue that in addition to actively participating in their learning on an individual level, students must engage in a social learning environment that encourages three-way communication between the teacher, the student, and their peers. Individualised teacher feedback is crucial, but collaboration with peers results in the process of critical reflection, planning, and synthesis to be more explicit than if students were to work alone (Benson, 2013). Despite the overwhelming evidence that students thrive in social learning environments, the reality remains that educators often struggle to turn theory into practice both in the classroom and online.
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, March 2020 saw higher education teachers across the globe scrambling to move their lectures and seminars online to maintain their practice, with little time to stop and reflect on how to create successful social learning spaces. However, with the current recognition that online learning is now an integral part of the education system, more discussions are centred on how educators can reap the benefits of technology to meet their pedagogical needs so that online learning is just as effective, if not more effective, than face-to-face learning.
The key to designing effective social learning spaces is to completely reimagine the way we do things in traditional classrooms and consider how technology can be used to our advantage to create these spaces. At insendi, we constantly strive to achieve this so that online learning is far from the solitary process it was previously. With an unparalleled range of tools using innovative technologies to promote student-teacher and student-student interactions, our learning design process is strongly focussed on making our courses active, engaging, and fostering a strong sense of community. One instance of this is insendi’s word cloud activity, which allows students and their peers to enter words in response to a question or prompt. These responses appear instantly as a colourful graphic, with the most popular responses appearing in the biggest font. Users of the platform find this activity an effective way to check student knowledge and use peer feedback to support learning.
Whilst technology enables the creation of social learning spaces, it is teachers that continue to hold a critical role of fostering teacher-student and student-student interactions. At insendi, this often includes teachers interacting with students via multiple communication styles, responding to student queries, providing additional feedback, and fostering constructive peer engagement. We can see that it is technology that facilitates these important interactions between teachers and students.
Going forward, there are many exciting conversations to be had surrounding how we can take advantage of technology to meet our pedagogical goal of creating effective social learning environments.
About the Author:
Georgie Hannam is a Learning Experience Designer at Insendi. She holds an MA in Applied Linguistics and a BA in French and Spanish from the University of Southampton. Georgie's strong focus on online and blended education during her Master's degree grew her passion for technology and innovative learning solutions. She has published research centred on social learning spaces and learner autonomy, and endeavours to apply this background to create meaningful learning experiences. Over the years, Georgie has worked at a number of Higher Education institutions designing and delivering online and blended programmes. At insendi, she takes pride in using her pedagogical expertise to support faculties across the globe to create engaging and exciting programmes.
Benson, P. (2013). Teaching and researching autonomy (2nd ed.). London: Taylor & Francis.