Facebook as LMS?

Sarah Robbins posted on Ubernoggin today with the title Roll your own LMS with Facebook. She says that rather than using a traditional LMS that students don’t use as often as they perhaps should, you can use Facebook as a “near perfect course management system,” with chat, file sharing, and “Courses.” It looks to me like the Courses feature was shut down recently but that other options are available through 3rd parties. (If I’m wrong on that, someone please correct me.)

I’m still thinking about the questions raised at the Online Networking in Courses presentation I attended last week. I asked Sarah how she thinks using Facebook would structure learning differently than how it would be structured in a traditional LMS.

Here’s part of her answer:

Personally, I think increasing social interactions in learning is never a bad thing so using a tool that makes social interaction so easy has to be a good thing. I also think it’s beneficial to integrate learning into social spaces because it reinforces the idea that learning doesn’t just happen in privileged spaces but can happen anywhere and without the intervention of an “official teacher.” I think it helps put subject matter in a broader context of other areas that students are interested in so that the lines between “course work” and “life” aren’t so structured.

And, of course, she turned the question around to ask what I think. I don’t feel like I completely grasp what the implications would be for changing the structure, or even what I would want it to be. But here’s my thoughts right now.

For courses within a traditional LMS, I think you end up with a lot of read-write-reflect type of activities, plus probably some quizzes. For quizzes, you’re assessing timed, forced-choice knowledge. For writing, it’s probably mostly individual reflection, maybe with some discussions. Even with threaded discussion boards, you create discussion and debate but not necessarily ever collaboration. The line between teacher and student is pretty distinct, with more power in the teacher. It reflects traditional face-to-face teaching that way.

I agree with Sarah that using social networking tools for a course increases the amount of interaction and probably encourages more assessment of how people interact together. I would hope that there would be more chance of real collaboration–not that it’s impossible to create real collaboration in an LMS, but maybe it would be easier in a different environment. I’ve seen a lot of research about the value of creating a learning community, and I think using social networking could help create that community. I wonder for people who already use these tools if the community of a course would really feel any different than the community of their friends. Maybe that doesn’t matter though; maybe that’s what we should be aiming for. That’s the blurring between “course work” and “life” that Sarah mentioned.

Learning never should

Image citation
School stops for the summer:
Learning never should
from Wes Fryer‘s
photostream.

If we’re trying to create lifelong learners, then using social networking tools for learning might be more effective. It has a stronger intrinsic context for interacting with others than a more artificial classroom environment. Practice that is as close to real life as possible is more effective, so practicing using tools for learning in the real world should make it easier for students to transition out of the course and continue using the tools.

I expect that using a social networking tool would de-emphasize individual work as it emphasizes collaboration. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but being aware of the structure created is part of what we need. Would a course in Facebook allow a safe place for people to make mistakes? What would happen if someone bombed something publicly? Again, this could happen in a traditional LMS or face-to-face course, but it’s more likely to happen publicly using Facebook. If you gave a terrible presentation in a face-to-face course, you’d be embarrassed in front of your classmates while it happened, but chances are, there wouldn’t be much record of it. Evidence of a mistake could last much longer on Facebook. That kind of transparency and record could certainly provide opportunities for learning, but it’s very different from the traditional course. I think many people would have trouble adjusting to it.

The field test for one of the courses I developed recently finished, and I got the initial feedback today. This is the first course where I have used blogs, wikis, and other tools. A lot of what students do for this course is outside of the LMS, but they also come back in for the discussion boards. One point in the feedback was that students had a hard time jumping back and forth between the blogs and the discussion boards. The conversations didn’t seem connected to each other, and the discussions “didn’t have a home.” It is one of the problems with all of these tools that everything is so scattered. RSS can aggregate a lot of content into one place, but you still have to be able to bounce back and forth between resources and connect it all. Using these tools creates a much less centralized experience than a traditional LMS.

But even though an LMS lends itself more easily to one type of structure and social networking tools to another structure doesn’t mean that we can make improvements on both. I know that our company is going to continue to use a traditional LMS for the foreseeable future and that having an entire course in Facebook is simply not going to happen. Our audience is practicing teachers though, not 19- to 22-year-old college students who are already using Facebook. It doesn’t make as much sense for our learners. But we can implement blogs to encourage students to continue their conversations after the end of the course, and that is a change in the structure. We can use wikis and chat to encourage real collaboration and more interaction. Heck, it’s even an improvement if we make sure that all our discussion board assignments actually encourage discussion and/or debate and aren’t just used as galleries or bulletin boards where everyone posts a variation on the same ideas and talks past each other. I think being aware of the structure means we can choose to adapt that structure, at least within some limitations.

So what ideas do you have? How can we adapt the structure of a traditional LMS to make it more collaborative? Or should we even try–maybe we should just ditch them and use Facebook? What would the drawbacks be of using social networking tools as the central launching point for a course? How do these tools shape our pedagogy?

Update: More on these ideas in a new post, Social Networking as LMS: Problems and Opportunities.

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18 thoughts on “Facebook as LMS?

  1. Pingback: OLDaily[中文版] » Blog Archive » 2007年8月17日

  2. Interesting expansion of an argument I posited last month: http://eduspaces.net/csessums/weblog/184270.html.

    While social networking has many advantages in learning new information, it is only one piece to a much larger, more complex puzzle.

    Can you imagine teaching calculus on Facebook? How about chemistry or zoology? What will Facebook provide that adds value besides interaction between participants?

    Questions aside, I enjoyed your post.

    Chris

  3. That’s an interesting post on your blog. I definitely see the connections between these ideas and the PLE concept. Your point about “seamless integration” is good too; everyone claims it, but really, how do we do that?

    I don’t think that any technology is going to be ideal for all types of learning and all content. We used to use the example of beekeeping in a former group as a program we simply couldn’t do with fully online learning. I’m a big supporter of online education and I think there’s great opportunities, but not everything can be done fully online.

    There’s definitely still a lot of questions on this topic. I think even after doing a second post this morning that I have more questions than answers. I’m stretching my brain though, and that can’t be a bad thing!

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  8. Thanks for this post. I have started to think about Facebook as a learning system but a lot of the students I have spoken to want to keep Facebook for their private lives only. Interestingly, I wanted my students to start a closed blog as a means to communicate whilst on placements but they’re doing their own thing with Bebo.

  9. Right now, I think I’m at the point where I feel there are things we can learn from Facebook about how to build learning communities. I’m not so enamored of the idea of using it exclusively for housing a course. Facebook lets people interact with each other in a number of ways, including with different media, and that’s something I think we could use in our courses. The ability to personalize is also something I think would be beneficial.

    I do understand students wanting to keep the personal and school lives separate. I don’t think that’s any different from adults wanting to keep their professional and personal lives separate. It’s such a blurry line though, and different people are comfortable with different balances.

    • Hi Cristy,

      My idea is to integrate an existing lms to a social networking tool. This way, collaboration happens where it is most enjoyable. Like you mentioned in your post dated December 19, 2007 at 1:21 pm. The concern is to adapt an engaging environment. (Correct me if I misunderstood.)

      Have you got any brighter ideas that you wish to share?

      • You might want to check out the follow up post I wrote about Social Networking as LMS for some more ideas. I also am intrigued by the model of the open course like CCK09, where the course exists on many platforms and is basically aggregated together via RSS. I think we do need to adapt to the environment where our students are already learning and participating, but we may also need to provide ways to separate the personal and professional or official school work.

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