Professional Use of Social Media for Learning in a Community of Practice

Connections among Twitter users who tweeted using hashtag HealthTap on 28 September, 2011 - by Marc Smith on Flickr
Connections among Twitter users who tweeted using hashtag HealthTap on 28 September, 2011 – by Marc Smith on Flickr

Upon recently reading Mayes’ and de Freitas’ 2004 study Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models, I was interested in one of their conclusions. After going through the main theoretical perspectives of learning, they listed associated e-learning models for each — with one exception.

Learning Theoretical Perspective                        E-Learning Model(s)

Associationist                                                           E-Training Models

Cognitive/Constructivist                                           Laurillard’s Conversational Model

Socially-mediated Constructivist                              Salmon’s E-Tivities, DialogPlus

Communities of Practice                                          ???

So in 2004, Mayes and de Freitas could see no examples of e-learning models which are based on Lave and Wenger’s notion of learning within communities of practice. More than 10 years have passed. Do we have community of practice e-learning now?

I think we have at least something very close: learning through professional use of social media. For example, an undergraduate medical student joins Twitter and follows other doctors. She begins to pick up on terminology, on problems they discuss, on issues they raise, on news items they comment on, on articles they read. She tweets on the same article, and receives an insightful response which helps her see the case more clearly. She notices how careful the other doctors are about never revealing about their current patients. She gets an abstract accepted at the conference others have mentioned. In sum, she is learning from her community of practice how to be a practitioner herself.

This example of learning through professional use of social media may not exactly match up to Mayes’ and de Freitas’ criteria for an e-learning model, because such use tends to be more a part of informal learning than of formal. I am aware of, and have participated in, higher education case studies in which this kind of social media use and engagement was suggested to or required of students, some more successful than others. It is tricky because instructors and students both are a bit reticent to officially use social media for formal learning. Nevertheless, I would say that professional use of social media, that is using social media for one’s professional development, is the strongest contender I know of, for e-learning model of a. community of practice learning perspective.

Mayes, T. and DeFreitas, S. (2004) ‘JISC e-Learning Models Desk Study Stage 2 : Review of e-learning theories , frameworks and models’, JISC Website.

Wenger, E. (1998) ‘Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity’, Systems thinker, 9, pp. 2–3.

Terese Bird, Educational Designer

University of Leicester School of Medicine

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