Illustrating the Sweet Spot

I’ve probably used the term social learning more than just about anyone I know in the past 3 years. Many believe that all learning is social. While I don’t if I completely buy that theory, I do believe that our schools in general have downplayed the value of learning with one another both in physical classrooms and in “third places“.

As schools begin to recognize the potential of social media or networking as potential learning spaces it might be important to distinguish and identify things a bit more succinctly. I know David Jakes has stated he does not like the term social networking as it suggests social, but doesn’t speak specifically to learning. I agree. The term gets tossed around and means something quite different depending on individual interpretation.

I’ve build a mockup of a diagram I’d like to use to illustrate the merging and blending of social networking and individual interaction with content. This can be either online or offline but primarily I’m thinking about online spaces. Here’s my first draft.


It needs some work both from a design standpoint as well as the message and content.  The social networking aspect is pretty clear. We all have spaces where we are focused primarily on the social. Students in particular use facebook as a primary space to socialize. It’s not seen, nor should it necessarily be seen as a learning or academic space. That’s fine. On the other hand those that see the web or school library or classroom as containers of knowledge and information often aren’t interesting in the social component and interaction that supports learning. The area in blue represents learning and content that is consumed in isolation, reading a book, watching a video, writing a journal or article by yourself. I don’t think the term “academic content” really gets at what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to show that there is a sweet spot in between that can exist and should be fostered in schools. Any suggestions for improving this diagram would be welcomed.

This image also supports the concept but I wanted something a bit more explicit but this is the concept.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by dkuropatwa

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  • “New understandings” instead of “Academic content”…with the “sweet spot” being new understandings gained through social networking?
    .-= Diane Cordell´s last blog ..Library Advocacy =-.

  • Said diagram needs more kittens and possibly a drop shadow.

    On a serious note, I like the idea and will use it.
    .-= John Pederson´s last blog ..Google’s new experimental fiber network. =-.

  • I would add a third circle to represent traditional schooling. This way the sweet spot contains all forms of learning.
    .-= Chris Prout´s last blog ..C Is For Cookie =-.

  • I’m not sure if this is exactly what your are meaning, Dean, or if it might give you some food for thought by Terry Anderson, Randy Garrison and Walter Archer did some research about 10 years ago that they developed into a model of communities of inquiry. Their model is a great framework for thinking about social learning in an online context and really got me thinking of how some of the online communication tools like blogging and twitter work as the social presence element for CoI.

    • That’s pretty good. The one idea I wanted to make more explicit is that for now, most of our students attention and focus is the social side, thus it’s a larger section, but that is definitely some research I’ll examine more. Thanks pal.

  • I think the problem lies in trying to separate learning into school and non school spaces. Our schools are too compartmentalized physically which leads to society compartmentalizing what schools do. Learning is learning, do we assume there is more value in what is learned at school than outside? It seems to me there are too many examples that show the opposite to be true. Besides, who would you choose to decide what is important to learn or even when to do the learning? The fact that our curriculum is handed down to us is not very satisfying to me and definitely doesn’t seem to ring true to most of my students. What if students could determine when and from whom they learn?
    .-= wmchamberlain´s last blog ..Student Reflection: Yessy on Her Science Fair Project =-.

    • I agree. I’m not trying to separate the school from non-school but rather the individualized learning from the social networking and finding the intersect.

  • Kevin

    I would argue that almost all learning is social in some way. Reading a textbook by yourself is still “interacting” with the author(s) of the book even though that interaction is very static and unidirectional.

    I picture a 2 dimensional diagram where the horizontal axis represents interaction. The left side of the spectrum is static, one way, traditional, structured. The right side of the spectrum is dynamic, 2+ way, changing, messy, real-time.

    The vertical axis represents the content. Top would be traditional academic content. The bottom would be everyday life (not thinking of a good way to describe that).

    Now you can place different learning contexts into that 2D space. Traditional book learning would be in the upper left. Traditional media would be in the lower left. Online classes would be in the upper right. Social networking in the lower right. Then there would be all flavors of learning situations that sit somewhere between the extremes in both directions.

    • I’m a visual learner Kevin, would love to see a mock up of that.

      • Kevin

        Threw something together here:

        Still very much a thought in progress. Your thoughts?

        • Kevin

          And both the types and locations of the labels in the center of the diagram would be an interesting group exercise to work through.

          • Kevin

            So going back to your original thought of finding the sweet spot, where would you put that on here?

        • It actually captures in more detail my thinking. You’ve nicely laid out some continuums that I hadn’t considered. The one think I think yours and mine both lack is a clear visual of that “sweet spot”. Yours is more clear but too abstract for my purpose, mine is not clear either and lacks the focused singular message, if there is one. One of my intentions is to show that kids largely are focused on the social and that school largely focuses on the learning in isolated settings. Bridging those two is the sweet spot I’m trying to illustrate.It’s going to show social networking as the more important for our students.

  • I have so enjoyed this virtual thinking/collaborating process today via this post.
    Follow this path of social networking and learning today:
    1. I read Dean’s tweet about this blog post.
    2. I share blog post via emailed link with Kevin, Dr. Steve McCammon (my Superintendent), and George Thompson (President/COO of Schlechty Center).
    3. Kevin continues the conversation with us via email and begins to draft a new picture regarding his thoughts.
    4. Kevin posts here as a comment – He and Dean now begin to interact some more. Kevin and I are also talking in the hallway of our district offices. More emails continue, too.
    5. I’m now sending a tweet about this redirecting people back to Dean’s post.
    Such a great example of exactly the type of learning you are trying to describe here Dean :).

  • Oh…and one more thought…what a model of not having the “right” answer before you published your thoughts!!! The collaboration only continues to shape it and make it stronger :).
    .-= Elaine´s last blog ..Info Regarding Beef Products =-.

    • As Clay Shirky says, it used to be a Filter then Publish World, now it’s Publish then Filter.

  • Ummm…not sure how that “Elaine’s last blog…Info Regarding Beef Products” got under my last comment…leads to our district website’s lunch menu webpage LOL!!! (Oh I see now…it’s a check box under the comment field that I didn’t uncheck. Not sure how it thought that was a blog post of mine though…gave me a chuckle though!)

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  • I spent some time looking for Creative Commons images on Flickr yesterday and played around with your concept in Gimp. It’s getting more on target with your idea by my third go around under the tag 2010venn.

    I think I am beginning to understand what you are saying in my latest attempt. Students see their social network as interesting and the place to be. I took some status updates from my son’s Facebook stream and did a little editing on them to represent the social network aspect. The academic was fairly easy – a book. The middle ground of social learning is represented by a group holding hands. I have the images bookmarked and the Gimp file is available if you want to play around with this image further.

    I will be very interested in seeing your final rendition. It was fun throwing the idea around in my head.

  • Randy Nolan

    i just finished Latour’s _Reassembling the Social_, and he’s made me really nervous about representing “the social” with any kind of container. I’d be really interested to see if anyone could do a visual of your idea, Dean, using the idea of connections/associations as a network.

    • Randy,

      I’m sure I won’t capture the entire essence of the idea. I agree the container idea misrepresents the concept but hopefully I can illustrate my idea in some type of graphic.

  • It is a shame that the sweet spot is so small, but the idea makes sense. Filtering tools are becoming more important so that people can quickly and easily drill down to the sweet sport.

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