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Social Learning Matters

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Christine Springer
August 7, 2015

The question of how education has changed over the past 30 years depends on how we look at education as a whole. If you reflect on education as a way to plan for the future, it has not changed much. However, if you think about the advances in the approaches, methods or techniques of teaching in education, a lot has changed.
The incorporation of computers in learning and education systems is evidently the greatest change. In the 1930s, record players, tape players, ditto-machines and reel-to-reel projectors were some of the common instruments teachers used in their lessons. Today, computers are the dominate factor in education. The use of black boards, white boards and chalk have been replaced with smart boards, LCD projectors, video streaming, document scanners and Skype. Students can do their own research on the Internet for content instruction. Technology has opened up the world and has increased expectations from schoolchildren, although some maintain that students get lazier as technology gets stronger and more information is available to them.

social learning

According to Project Tomorrow, 32 percent of K-12 teachers in 2014 reported they used flippers (videos found online and transmitted to students at home) to teach. The term “flipped classroom” is attributed to Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. Both are Colorado educators who pioneered the use of screen casting and video podcasting in 2006, using them to deliver content for their high school science classes. Today, the term is commonly used to describe an instructional strategy to help build increased interaction with students during face-to-face class time. Even students with hearing impairments have access to system machines that help boost their hearing capability. Students are now able to proceed with learning at their own pace. They are able to replay audio lectures or video clips and more conveniently, slow learners do not slow down their classmates.

While the number of online high school and college courses increases every year, social interaction and learning remain critical to student knowledge enhancement. Online courses rarely incorporate effectively social interaction. Social learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge and skills through methods that are collaborative, immediate, relevant and presented in the context of an individual’s work and learning environment. It is important because it incorporates social media, gaming, real-time feedback and advanced at-this-time-and-place methodologies.

The first step in developing a social learning system is to define competencies to be achieved and to develop feedback systems to assess those competencies. The second step is to create a context-based learning system that changes daily based upon performance and experiences in the personal and learning environment.

The typical high school and college classroom has become virtual. The function of teachers has changed from a disseminator of information to that of a facilitator of education. For most of the 20th century, distance learning entailed the use of pen and paper, typewriters and the Postal Service providing the principal link between the teacher and students. Now, educational programs, courses and content are transmitted using the Internet and mobile technology. Distance learning also includes cooperative teaching whereby several classes at the same grade or level are combined, with one teacher handling the lessons and another teacher acting as an aide or an assistant teacher.

In the past, very few students with special needs or disabilities were incorporated into public schools. Today, these students are being mainstreamed into the general education classroom in big numbers. The method of looping teachers is also more common than ever before. Teachers now continue to monitor the progress of their classes for two or more years. This fosters a better understanding and bonding between the students and teachers, thus improving academic performance.

Good online teachers are adept at engaging students, using social media and building community by being present daily in online discussions. After overseeing a Master of Science degree, which is online and face-to-face since 2006, I have learned that creating a culture of social interaction and learning is important to effective teaching.

  1. Provide the students with early wins by giving them a short assignment that will increase their self-confidence and allowed them to engage with other students in the course.
  2. Activate the students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they think and make it part of a group discussion.
  3. Ask students to compare and contrast differences and similarities between multiple ideas by giving them two different solutions to a simple and serious problem. Challenge them to analyze both, come up with solutions and share them with the group.
  4. Use silence to provide time for students to process what has been discussed and to prevent one person from blurting out the answer. This can be done by asking students to take 30 seconds or a day to identify unresolved questions. 

In the final analysis, social interaction and learning continues to be important to education at all levels. As online education remains an important part of courses, now and in the future, making certain that there is continuous interaction among and between students and the faculty teaching the courses is critical to everyone’s success.


Author: Christine Gibbs Springer is the director of the Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. She is founder and CEO of a strategic management and communications firm, Red Tape Limited. To contact Springer, email [email protected] 

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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