- reviews some of the key problems we face in securing effective gifted education
- examines how – in the context of increasingly globalised gifted education – social media are helping to address those problems
- proposes ways in which social media’s contribution might be enhanced and strengthened and
- considers whether and to what extent social media might contribute towards the resolution of those problems.
The post is divided into two parts, with Part One providing a foundation for the arguments advanced in Part Two
It sets out my broad approach to this issue, explains the key concepts relating to gifted education, social media and globalisation respectively and provides background information and data about social media usage, especially in a European and educational context.
While I have tried to maintain a consistent and logical argument, you may find this somewhat more discursive and opinionated than my usual posts. I want to be provocative to promote discussion, but there is nothing here that I do not personally believe. I may be guilty of want of tact, in which case I plead guilty as charged.
Until now this blog has devoted little attention to the current and potential contribution of social media to gifted education, despite comprising one very small element of the social media revolution that is already impacting upon it.
The organisation of a Symposium on Social Media and Gifted Education – part of the imminent 13th International Conference of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA) in Germany – provides the perfect opportunity to rectify this omission.
I outlined our plans for the Symposium in my last post, introducing the participants and the abstracts of our presentations.
We intend that it will explore:
- The extent to which social media have been applied to gifted education;
- The benefits and the risks that social media can bring, whether for learners, parents, educators or policy-makers; and
- How this field is likely to develop over the next few years.
We will discuss what further collaborative action might be undertaken by the gifted education community in Europe and beyond, to capitalise on the potential for social media to build and maintain valuable connections between them, for the benefit of all involved.
Our treatment will be located within the wider context of research on gifted education and social media respectively, but we will be focused primarily on the development and support of effective practice.
I have invited all presenters to publish their contributions a little way ahead of the event, to allow the other participants to familiarise themselves with the arguments they advance, and so come better prepared to take the discussion forward (but I recognise that this may not be possible for everyone given that the Conference takes place immediately after the holiday season).
I will upload materials and presentations and/or post links from this Blog so that everything that is published before the Symposium can be easily found.
There will be a Twitter Wall inside the Symposium, so that – technology and reliable free wi-fi permitting – some of the power of social media can be harnessed to support the event. We will invite those physically present to live Tweet highlights of the presentations as well as their own contributions.
We have also arranged a special edition of Global #gtchat powered by TAGT (the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented) to coincide with the Symposium, so that those among the worldwide gifted education community who are active on Twitter can follow proceedings and hopefully take an active part in the live discussion.
For my part, I have decided to set out my contribution to proceedings as a fairly typical Gifted Phoenix blog post. This will provide the basis for a much briefer 10 minute presentation during the Symposium itself. But industrious delegates will have been able to familiarise themselves with the full, unadulterated version – and so be able to discuss that more substantive text if they wish.
My Abstract, Biases and Hypothesis
For ease of reference, here again is the abstract that summarises my contribution:
‘Within education as a whole we are only beginning to utilise the huge untapped potential of social media to revolutionise learning, professional development, advocacy, research and policy-making.
The global gifted community is starting to realise that social media can provide part of the solution to many of the issues that it has been wrestling with for decades.
But the number of enthusiastic ‘early adopters’ is still relatively small, the majority are not yet fully engaged or persuaded and a few feel excluded or even directly threatened.
This presentation analyses the problems and priorities faced by the global gifted community, as seen through a European lens. It examines how social media might be harnessed to address these and reviews the progress made to date.
It identifies concrete action that could be taken to secure further and faster progress. It also isolates some of the key risks associated with a social-media driven approach and considers how those might be mediated or circumvented.
Participants will be strongly encouraged to share their own perspectives and experience, regardless of whether they are experts, beginners or somewhere in between.’
I bring my own fair share of subjectivity and personal bias to this treatment, and it is important that I make a clean breast of that at the outset.
This analysis of the issues faced by the global gifted community will inevitably be Eurocentric, given my geographical location, though my perspective is fundamentally the globalised view of gifted education that serves as the leitmotif of this Blog.
It will also be influenced by my background as a policy-maker: one who understood part of that function to involve promoting engagement within and across the gifted education community, drawing in all the key stakeholder groups, as well as networking with and learning from the experience of those with similar responsibilities throughout the world.
Although I approach these issues from a broadly academic perspective, I am relatively more sceptical about the contribution of ‘proper’ academics than any other group within this community. That may be because – with honourable exceptions, some involved in this Symposium – I perceive them to be rather more concerned with their personal academic theories and reputations (and sometimes the reputations of their institutions) than they are with working collaboratively to resolve the common problems that we face.
Sometimes it feels as though the gifted education community is over-dominated by a pantheon of academic gods, each demanding that we worship at his or her shrine. Of course it may be a fault in the worshippers, rather than the worshipped, that this situation has come about.
I also start from the contestable premiss that our collective efforts to secure effective transnational collaboration in gifted education to date have been sadly deficient, especially in recent years.
Hence I am rather critical of ECHA’s track record, and that of the World Council, which places me in a somewhat difficult position relative to those organisations and others like them, especially when I am utilising their conferences to advance my views!
This may be cause to label me an outsider, even a maverick. But, paradoxically, my core message is an inclusive one, for part of the problem I see with these organisations is that they rely too heavily on a traditional closed membership model, which seems to me rather outmoded and out of kilter with the more inclusive, open-access, networking principles embodied in social media (at least up to the point where they collide with an imperative to generate subscription-based income).
These organisations also appear to be over-dominated by the academic contingent, somewhat to the detriment of the other stakeholder groups within the wider gifted education community, which weakens their overall impact.
I should also warn of possible bias when it comes to the social media I espouse and those I hold in somewhat lower regard. As will be apparent from my own digital ‘footprint’ I see great value in blogging, microblogging (via Twitter), learning platforms and collaborative platforms or online ‘hubs’ (such as the low-budget option we are developing for GT Voice).
I am somewhat less convinced of the value of Facebook, Linked In, Google+ and Second Life, though I recognise that they can make a valuable contribution. I see huge potential in social bookmarking and curation tools, as well as a variety of other useful applications.
But I believe that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. The trick lies in using these various instruments as seamlessly as possible, to create an accessible, effective and supportive social media environment.
I am sure you will hold a quite different perspective, but don’t let that prevent you from engaging with what follows! I have striven to hold these biases in check during the remainder of this post, though you may still see a trace here and there.
My fundamental hypothesis is that social media may well offer our best chance of realising E.M. Forster’s famous injunction to ‘Only Connect’, so linking together socially and geographically dispersed individuals, organisations and stakeholder groups, for the mutual benefit of all.
(The referencing of Forster’s epigraph in this context is not without precedent, as this early paper on ‘Computer-Mediated Association and Community Networks aptly illustrates.)
This is important because the fundamental weakness of the gifted education community lies in its fragmentation, its over-emphasis on points of difference and disagreement rather than points of similarity, and its overall unwillingness to collaborate to achieve broadly positive outcomes.
Some parts of the community are also bedevilled by insularity, failing to recognise that their part of the world does not have the monopoly on effective policy and practice and that they can learn from the experience of other countries, provided that they avoid the worst excesses of ‘policy tourism’.
I am not messianistic about the capacity of social media to generate a new world order in gifted education. I recognise that there are significant obstacles to the realisation of this outcome, some of which may prove insurmountable. But I do think that we can make significant further progress by building firm and sustainable social media foundations that will be beneficial to the future development of the European and global gifted education communities.
The Meaning of Terms
This post brings together three complex concepts, each of which can be hard to pin down, namely gifted education, social media and globalisation. Relatively few readers are likely to be fully familiar with all three, and my interpretation may be somewhat idiosyncratic, so it is important to clarify what I mean by these terms.
I tend to use ‘gifted education’ as a convenient shorthand for all activities associated with the identification, education and support of gifted learners, however that population is defined (and of course there are multiple definitions, with huge variation in the span and pitch of abilities accommodated, as well as the evidence of their existence required).
I use ‘gifted learner’ to mean all the beneficiaries of such activity, regardless of their age and whether they are receiving formal education, though children and young people of school age are foremost in my thinking.
I intend ‘gifted education community’ to include all those with a primary interest in giftedness, as well as all those engaged in some capacity with gifted education (and we know that those two factions do not always co-exist harmoniously, even in a social media environment).
Some might argue that my use of the terms ‘education’ and ‘learner’ is misleading, because they do not apply to some activities and settings I want to include. But that reinforces a tension between two parts of the community which seems to me reconcilable, if we can accept that all of us are engaged with education and learning in the broadest sense.
This is a broad church indeed, and the definitional variations I have mentioned make this even more pronounced. Sometimes it seems that the only common feature within this community is disagreement.
But part of my premiss is that only through collaboration can we accumulate sufficient power and influence to achieve the broadly common outcomes sought by the many different elements within the gifted education community. More specific preferences may have to be sacrificed for the common good. Social media can help to support such collaboration, helping us to circumvent the fragmentation that will otherwise undermine our collective efforts.
In this post, I have divided the gifted education enterprise into five areas, each of which is (stereo)typically associated with a particular stakeholder group, shown in brackets below.
These groups feature significantly in my subsequent treatment of problems and solutions. But I have avoided categorisation by group because each area is not entirely defined by the dominant group and, conversely, the activities of each group are not entirely defined by the area in which they typically feature. For example, it is quite reasonable to accept that teachers contribute to all of the five areas below.
The list is ordered alphabetically – no inference should be made as to the relative importance of the five components, all of which are critical to the success of our collective endeavour:
- Advocacy (parents) incorporates all activity designed to raise awareness of the needs of gifted learners and those involved with their support – as well as the full range of personal and social benefits that investment in meeting those needs can secure – and lobbying to persuade those in positions of power and influence to address those needs and so generate those benefits.
This may be undertaken through organisations and networks specifically established for the purpose, or through more general governance arrangements (whether the governing body of a single school, a national parliament or something in between).
The most basic form is one-to-one interaction, typically between a parent and a teacher. It can take place face-to-face, online, or even in a blended environment. It may be highly formal, entirely informal or located at any point between those two extremes.
- Learning (learners) incorporates all activities and services that contribute towards the formal and informal education of gifted learners. In the case of learners of school age, the formal dimension will likely involve some element of compulsory schooling or its equivalent, typically but not exclusively provided through some form of differentiated classroom teaching, whether in a selective or mixed ability setting. Home schooling is of course an exception.
There may also be a significant element provided through additional extended learning activities that take place outside school hours, in the evenings, at weekends or during school holidays.
The distinction between formal and informal – already blurred to some extent through these out-of-school activities – becomes even more indistinct within an increasingly significant third component, namely voluntary, independent learning, now typically undertaken online and facilitated by social media.
The degree of independence varies, in that such online learning may be entirely separate from formal education, or fully integrated with it, or loosely connected.
The balance between these components can also vary enormously. In some blended learning models – often gathered under the general term flipped classroom – the independent online component is dominant, reversing the more traditional model in which face-to-face classroom learning predominates and is supported by additional online interaction.
One might expect the educational experience of gifted learners to require relatively more customisation and so typically include more out-of-school and online activity. Given that assumption, gifted learners are an important customer group for online learning providers to satisfy.
If we can also assume that education in future will be provided increasingly through online environments, then gifted learners can and should be at the forefront of that transformation.
But regardless of the balance, it is critical that these different elements are fully integrated and mutually supportive. If any part of the educational menu is perceived as second-order and ‘bolt-on’, the learner will suffer as a consequence. It follows that the organisation and recording of learning is essential to avoid fragmentation of the individual learner’s education experience, and social media can also support this.
- Policy-making (policy makers) denotes the development and delivery of all services designed to meet the needs of gifted learners and their families, as well as those engaged in associated advocacy, professional development and research.
This is likely to involve selection and assessment of different policy options, resource allocation, choosing a delivery mechanism, implementing a delivery process and evaluating outcomes. Policies and programmes must satisfy the political requirements of the entity responsible for approving them. They must also fit snugly in the wider policy context, supporting broader educational and social objectives wherever possible.
The communication of policies – how they are perceived by stakeholders affected and by the wider population – is a critical factor, and much of this engagement now takes place online. Policy makers are encouraged to use social media to conduct preliminary research, to consult stakeholders and as a feedback channel to inform the wider policy development process.
Although policy-making is assumed to be owned by those formally responsible for the design and delivery of services, whether at local/district, state/regional or national/federal level, that is not always the case. Concepts such as crowdsourcing and open and contestable policy-making are paving the way towards a much more distributed model.
- Professional development (teachers) comprises the initial training and subsequent development of all those engaged in educating and meeting the needs of gifted learners. This is not confined to teachers, though they will form the majority of beneficiaries. Other educators and paraprofessionals will also feature, some of them working directly with gifted learners, others engaged in related activities such as school leadership or academic research. Parents and carers may also benefit and there is a ‘training the trainers’ dimension too.
As with learning, professional development incorporates formal programmes that can be undertaken face-to-face, online or in a blended format. Provision may range from a full postgraduate degree at one end of the spectrum to a module requiring an hour or so for completion at the other.
And professional development is also making increased use of social media to provide the basis for collaborative interaction in a rich, multimedia online environment. As online and blended options become more popular, one might expect traditional face-to-face models to decline in popularity.
Meanwhile, social media also host a substantial and increasing volume of voluntary, independent professional development undertaken through personal and social learning networks (of which more below). And the distinction between these two strands is becoming increasingly blurred as those undertaking both at once build links between them so that formal and independent learning become mutually supportive.
This increasing reliance on social media and social networks is congruent with a widespread shift in the delivery model for professional development, away from top-down centralised models and towards devolved, bottom-up networked solutions that depend principally on educators supporting each other. Social media can help to combat the disadvantages of this distributed approach by extending its geographical reach and helping to ensure consistent quality.
Because educators are, by definition, at the forefront of pedagogical innovation, they too have a strong interest in pioneering these developments, testing out new approaches to learning on themselves.
- Research (academic researchers) includes all activity devoted to the production of knowledge about how best to meet the needs of gifted learners and those supporting them, as well as evaluation of the costs and benefits of doing so.
It may be undertaken in a formal context – typically a university or think-tank – and the product may be a research paper, report, lecture, presentation or book. Such research may be expected to inform advocacy, learning, professional development and policy-making but, if it is to do so, it must be shared openly with the relevant stakeholder groups rather than remaining in locked repositories.
Through the open access movement there is increasingly pressure to ensure that the outcomes of academic research are fully and freely available online, so that knowledge is not restricted to those in formal research environments and others with the ability to pay. Social media provide the means to distribute such research outcomes widely
But research may also take place in a different organisational environment, such as a third sector organisation, or be undertaken by advocates and/or educators working individually or collaboratively (including via a social network). It may be published through social media, perhaps in the form of a blog post or a wiki.
This democratisation of research, enabling those outside higher education settings to generate, publish and disseminate their findings, parallels similar developments in the other facets of gifted education already summarised above.
Whereas roles and responsibilities were once rigidly defined and allocated to specific subsets of the gifted education community, social media are beginning to bring about a more inclusive scenario – one which calls into question the relationships between different stakeholder groups that previously existed.
This provides an opportunity for those who were once in relatively subservient positions – or felt themselves to be so. But it also poses a threat to those who were formerly in positions of greatest power and influence. If I am right that the academic element has been over-dominant in the gifted education community, then social media may provide a means to rectify that imbalance.
But policy-makers and educators will also need to resign some of their former influence in this new environment. Indeed, as noted above, none of the five areas I have defined is any longer the province of a single stakeholder group. We must all work more closely together to make progress in each of the five.
This term is also convenient shorthand, typically used to describe the online environment, including the various platforms and tools that people use to interact, through the publication, curation, sharing, discussion and collaborative development of different kinds of content.
In the last few years there has been a tendency to use the alternative term ‘web 2.0’, as a synonym, distinguishing social media from the earlier, non-interactive phase of internet development, but this seems now to be yesterday’s jargon, especially as various attempts have been made to delineate a new ‘web 3.0’ phase (so far without much consensus over the meaning of the term).
Strictly speaking, the human interaction undertaken via these social media is more accurately described as networking. When using social media one sees constant reference to social networks and personal networks and, in an educational context, the word ‘learning is often added. But it is hard to find straightforward explanations of what exactly these two phrases mean.
This is my current imperfect understanding:
- Social learning network synthesises two different concepts that predate the internet and sets this hybrid in an online context. One is the idea of networked learning, achieved through communication between members of a learning community; the other is the social network, originally describing any social structure comprising individuals and groups. The latter phrase is now more commonly used to describe online interaction between a group of users who share a common interest and/or use a common platform.
A social learning network is essentially a group of users who form such an online community for the purpose of learning. There is an ever-increasing range of social learning platforms which embrace a variety of different models. Some are more accurately described as teaching networks, because they feature a fairly traditional teacher-student relationship; others are designed to support collaborative peer-to-peer learning.
A subset that receives particular attention is caught by the acronym MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Some MOOCs are hosted by traditional universities and there has been a spate of recent high profile launches. Enthusiasts regard MOOCs as precursors of fully scalable free online higher education which could rival more traditional cost-bearing university-based courses.
Others are less sure, with some critics suggesting that a certain adherence to traditional lecturer-student relationships is out of kilter with the core principles of networked learning. Commentators are beginning to highlight more of the downside.
- Personal learning network (PLN) is a popular phrase amongst educators who are active social media users. Essentially it describes participation in networked learning from the individual’s perspective, being the network of other people that the individual interacts with for the purpose of learning. It can also be interpreted as including the platforms and tools the individual uses for that purpose, though that is sometimes conceived of as a separate ‘personal learning environment’.
Such learning is self-directed and typically informal. Lalonde describes it thus in his thesis on The Role of Twitter in the Formation and Maintenance of PLNs (I have removed some of the academic references to improve the flow):
‘A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a network of people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning. These people may assist you in your learning by acting as a guide, direct you to learning opportunities, and assist you with finding answers to questions.’
Lalonde adds this helpful gloss:
‘…PLNs also appear to differ from similar informal learning constructs, such as a Community of Practice (CoP) or a Network of Practice (NoP) in that both CoPs and NoPs are bound by a common practice, or specific domain of knowledge or interest..
…While people may follow similar people within their PLN, the PLN is an autonomous construct that is uniquely created by each individual to serve their specific learning needs. Therefore, there is no collective intention driving the development of the PLN as there is with a community, but rather a personal intention on the part of the person constructing the PLN…’
A PLN – or, more accurately, a PLE – may be constructed on the basis of several different tools and platforms, though most people come to rely principally on one or two. It is of course preferable that time and effort is invested predominantly in the most effective routes and that one aims for synergy between the tools/platforms selected.
To take a personal example, I rely predominantly on microblogging via Twitter and this Blog, though I also make less intensive use of Facebook and Linked In. I deploy various secondary tools to support this approach – eg Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Bitly, Memolane – and, from time to time I test out other tools to see whether they would be valuable additions. Because of the development of GT Voice, I am also exploring the interaction between that social network and my own PLN.
The 2012 edition of the NMC Horizon Report for Primary and Secondary Education identifies the use of PLEs as an innovation that will become influential, entering the mainstream within the next two to three years.
My hypothesis is predicated on the argument that we are living in an age of globalisation, that globalisation is bringing about globalised education and, that being the case, we are entering a phase of globalised gifted education. Many of our former assumptions about what we can achieve and how need to be recast to fit this new environment.
Globalisation has a general meaning and a more specific economic definition. In general terms it describes a process of increasing integration and interaction regardless of geographical distance and national boundaries. The pace of globalisation has increased as a consequence of improved transport and communication, especially online communication.
Economic globalisation is the process by which national economic markets have become increasingly interdependent. In some areas of economic activity they have already merged into a single world market; in others, that is rapidly becoming the situation.
This has been attributable partly to the increased ease with which the means of production, especially human capital, can be moved physically from one place to another. But improved online communication has also meant that human capital does not always need to move physically to the location in which it is applied.
This is particularly the case in the so-called ‘knowledge industries’ which rely on highly-skilled labour. IT itself is one example; education is another. Many countries have invested heavily in the development of highly-skilled labour with a view to creating a ‘knowledge economy’ which can thrive in a globalised environment.
Education (alongside training) is both the means by which such labour is developed and one of the segments of the knowledge economy, employing a workforce that is engaged in educating the current and future workforce and the production and application of knowledge through research and innovation.
Education is no longer confined by national and geographical boundaries. Learners can more easily move to a learning environment outside their own country, learning providers are establishing bases in different locations around the world and the internet provides a mechanism for increasingly sophisticated distance learning. This applies as much to gifted learners and gifted education (and also related professional development) as it does to any other field.
Some countries have realised that they must invest significantly in gifted education to feed the pipeline of highly-skilled labour that will drive their knowledge economies. Several of the ‘Asian Tigers’ fall into this category, notably Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are other notable examples.
They have recognised the economic value of investment in gifted education in a globalised environment. Other countries, including many of the leading Western economies, seem to prefer a strategy to raise the overall standard of their educational provision while simultaneously reducing achievement gaps between disadvantaged and other learners.
Given the latter emphasis, the rationale for gifted education in those countries may be articulated more in terms of equity and social mobility than in terms of economic investment. Or, where there is no rationale and no investment, the debate may be dominated by the significant gap between the needs of gifted learners and the capacity of the education system to meet those needs.
So some countries are investing in gifted education as a direct consequence of globalisation, but gifted education is also on the cusp of globalised delivery.
As social media create an increasingly sophisticated online learning environment, international exchange will no longer be confined to traditional academic conferences, franchised operations (such as CTY) and occasional opportunities for gifted students to attend summer schools abroad.
But it is not just learning and professional development that are becoming globalised. So are advocacy, policy-making and research. The introduction of online social media is both a driver of globalisation and our most effective means of response, across all five areas of gifted education outlined above.
How widespread is use of social media?
Before we go further, it is important to offer some further context for those who are relatively unfamiliar with the current reach and sophistication of social media.
This is not the place for an extensive treatment of the historical development of social media since its earliest origins, but those seeking to understand the timeline and key stages of development can gain at least a broad understanding from this selection of infographics available online:
Scale and Scope
It is less straightforward to convey succinctly to those not closely engaged a clear impression of the current scope of social media – the vast range of tools and platforms available and the way in which they can interact to create a holistic online environment.
I can only exemplify the former by referring unfamiliar readers to this online directory which provides details of and links to several thousand different applications.
These two infographics attempt a taxonomy of social media covering some of the most-used tools and platforms:
Two further infographics give a sense of how these different services mesh together from the perspective of the user:
- This describes six types of activity undertaken by social media users, providing details of the extent of participation by age in the USA for each of them; and
- The Social Media Effect is a simple flowchart illustrating how different social media tools and platforms can support each other.
This final infographic – Social Web Involvement – is the best illustration I can find of the huge number of people who use social media for different purposes in different parts of the world. This data is already three years old and the figures provided are likely to have increased significantly between then and now!
(The charts show interesting disparities between different European countries and we shall investigate that further below.)
This more recent Comscore Report from Autumn 2011 provides some mind-boggling statistics illustrating the scale of use and the pace of change:
- Social networks have 1.2 billion users aged 15+ worldwide – 82% of the global online population
- Social networking is the most popular online activity accounting for 19% of all time spent online, up from just 6% in 2007
- Social networking is increasing in every country surveyed – 43 in all
- The percentage of the online population using social networking has reached 98% in the USA and ranges from 86-98% in the 18 European countries surveyed
- European females spent an average of 8.2 hours per month on social networks; European males spent an average of 6.3 hours per month.
- People aged 55+ are the fastest growing group of social network users with 86% of all those active online in Europe now social network users
- Between 2010 and 2011, use of instant messenger services by 15-24 year-olds declined by 42% and use of email declined by 22%; meanwhile, use of social networking increased by 34%
This post provides statistical key facts and infographics for seven of the leading English language social networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
More about Social Media Use in Europe
An Autumn 2011 European Commission study on adult Media Use in the European Union (27 member states) reports that:
- 35% of all Europeans use online social networks at least once a week and nearly 20% use them on a daily or almost daily basis. However 44% said they never used online social networks and a further 11% said they had no access.
- There are significant differences according to age: 56% of 18-24 year-olds use online social networks on a daily or almost daily basis, as do 29% of 25-39 year-olds, 14% of 40-54 year-olds and 4% of those over 55.
- But there are only minor differences according to socio-economic status (as measured by employment) with 23% of managers, 25% of white collar workers and 20% of manual workers using online social networks daily or almost daily. Some 60% of students fall into this category.
- The Netherlands reports the highest usage – 56% of people use online social networks at least once a week. They are closely followed by Latvia (55%), Denmark 54% and Sweden 54%. The lowest usage occurs in Romania (22%), Portugal (24%) and, perhaps surprisingly, Germany (27%).
- The biggest increases in usage by this measure since 2010 are reported in Luxembourg (+11%), Greece (+10%), the Czech Republic (+10%) and Austria (+9%).
As far as children are concerned, a September 2011 Report by the EU Kids Online Network published results of a survey of 25 European countries, concluding that 77% of 13-16 year-olds and 38% of 9-12 year-olds have a profile on a social networking site.
A supplementary analysis from the same source shows significant variance between countries.
- The highest percentage of 13-16 year-olds with a social media profile is in Norway (92%), Slovenia (91%), Czech Republic (90%), Denmark (89%) and the UK (88%).
- The parallel figures for 9-12 year-olds are: Netherlands (70%), Latvia (65%), Denmark (58%), Poland (58%), showing that there is significant variance between these two age groups.
- The lowest incidence of social media profiles were found amongst 13-16 year-olds in Turkey (61%) and Romania (63%) and amongst 9-12 year-olds in France (25%), Germany (27%) and Spain (28%).
- Gender differences are small – overall, 58% of boys and 60% of girls have a personal social media profile.
In 2010 the European Commission published Learning 2.0 – The Impact of Social Media on Learning in Europe which uses survey evidence from 2008 and 2009.
It found that:
- In 2009, across 27 countries surveyed, an average 31% of the population aged 16-74 used the internet ‘for seeking information with the purpose of learning’, up from just 8% in 2007. The proportion varied significantly between countries, exceeding 60% in Finland and Iceland.
- In 2009 5% of the population used the internet to pursue an online course. The percentage per country ranged from 1% to 18% (Belgium)
- In 2008, 35% of the population and 57% of internet users made use of the internet ‘for advanced communication services related to social media’. For 16-24 year-olds, these percentages rose to 73% and 83% respectively.
A sense of how quickly things are shifting can be obtained by comparing these figures with 2011 data from Eurostat, which shows:
- 38% of all 18-74 year-olds participating in social networks within the last three months; 80% of 16-24 year-olds and 83% of students met this criterion. The overall percentage ranges between 72% in Iceland and 25% in Romania;
- The overall percentage of 18-74 year-olds pursuing an online course remains at 5%, but the highest national rate has reached 14% (in Finland). Moreover, 8% of all 16-24 year-olds and 10% of all students are pursuing an online course. The countries recording the highest percentages for students engaged are: Finland (50%), Lithuania (37%) and (perhaps surprisingly) Romania (22%).
In the UK, ONS Data for 2011 shows that 57% of adults who accessed the internet in the last three months did so for social networking purposes, with the percentage reaching 91% amongst 16-24 year-olds. Seven percent of adults accessed the internet to undertake an online course, including 9% of 16-34 year-olds and 45-54 year-olds.
The 2010 Report also drew on two commissioned research studies of the incidence of learning based on social media, concluding:
‘Within formal Education and Training… a great number and variety of locally embedded Learning 2.0 initiatives have been identified across Europe, which illustrate that social media can be, and are being, used by Education and Training institutions to:
- facilitate access by current and prospective students to information, making institutional processes more transparent and facilitating the distribution of educational material;
- integrate learning into a wider community, reaching out to virtually meet people from other age-groups and socio-cultural backgrounds, linking to experts, researchers or practitioners in a certain field of study and thus opening up alternative channels for gaining knowledge and enhancing skills;
- support the exchange of knowledge and material and facilitate community building and collaboration among learners and teachers;
- increase academic achievement with the help of motivating, personalised and engaging learning tools and environments;
- implement pedagogical strategies intended to support, facilitate, enhance and improve learning processes.
The research on learning in informal (online) learning networks and communities… concludes that social media applications provide easy, fast and efficient ways to access a great diversity of information and situated knowledge. They also provide learners with opportunities to develop their competences in collaboration with other learners, practitioners and stakeholders. Additionally, they allow individuals to acquire competences in a holistic manner, embedded in real-life contexts; and effectively and efficiently support competence building in a lifelong learning continuum.
Research on informal learning activities in online networks and communities further suggests that informal Learning 2.0 strategies facilitate the development of key competences for the 21st century.
To sum up, both research lines point to the fact that social media can lead to innovations in four different dimensions. Firstly, social media allow learners to access a vast variety of (often freely available) learning content, which supports learning and professional development in a lifelong learning continuum; contributes to equity and inclusion and puts pressure on Education and Training institutions to improve the quality and availability of their learning material.
Secondly, social media allow users to create digital content themselves and publish it online, giving rise to a huge resource of user-generated content from which learners and teachers can mutually benefit, also encouraging more active and pro-active approaches to learning.
Thirdly, social media connect learners with one another, and to experts and teachers, allowing them to tap into the tacit knowledge of their peers and have access to highly specific and targeted knowledge in a given field of interest.
Fourthly, social media support collaboration between learners and teachers on a given project or a joint topic of interest, pooling resources and gathering the expertise and potential of a group of people committed to a common objective.
These four dimensions (content, creation, connecting and collaboration) have been labelled as the four C’s of Learning 2.0 in IPTS research.’
This December 2009 presentation by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre exemplifies how the 4Cs were then being embodied in online practice.
(Not Much) More about How Educators Use Social Media
The social media learning environment has improved radically since 2009, providing far more choice and a far richer multimedia experience.
But, while there is an abundance of material online describing how innovative educators are using social media to support pupil learning and their own professional development, it is surprisingly hard to find reliable survey information about how teachers more generally are utilising these techniques and tools.
I can find no recent and reliable survey data for Europe, or even the UK, though there is some limited material relating to US and Australian practice. The Australian sample is very small, while the US survey dates back to 2009.
Here ends the first part of this post. In Part Two we will examine more closely the challenges faced by contemporary gifted education, how social media is helping to frame our response and what steps we might take to maximise its contribution.