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Finding value in social learning

Value Of Social Learning Header

Social learning is a core part of the FutureLearn experience. We build it into every step of every course. We ensure our partners make the most of it when designing and delivering courses. We encourage learners to engage with each other through comments and social interactions such as replying, liking, finding, bookmarking and following each other. 

Built around social learning theory

Social learning is central to FutureLearn’s pedagogic approach, as well as being built into the core of the FutureLearn platform since we launched in 2013. Simply put, the theory states that being social is an active part of the learning process (more info on why it works). We can believe this until we’re blue, or pink, in the face but we must also ask questions and find evidence for it too. This is so we can better understand what aspects of being social while learning are most effective, which need to be improved and to find out why it is such an essential part of learning. Because we built FutureLearn around social learning pedagogy, and want to enhance our understanding of the impact, we must examine how our learners interact with our platform to gain insight of the good, or less good, things we’ve built. 

Social learners view 37% more content

FutureLearn is powered by data-driven decisions. Every day we aim in a direction that is guided less by hunches but by evidence. Occasionally we see something so interesting, or compelling, that we want to either poke at it or share it more widely. That’s where this chart comes in: 

social learning chart
Blue dot = average for social learners (made one or more comment) Pink dot = average for all other learners X-axis = a course live for enrolment Y-axis = percentage of content viewed

With two dots per course we can see there’s quite a difference between social and other learners. The average difference in viewing content across all courses was an increase of 37% for social learners. There’s no course where social learners viewed less of the content than other learners. 

We do not make being social any criteria for participation or completion of courses – it is an optional activity on all courses. Most steps (content) will encourage social activity because we know it leads to a more interactive and engaging learning experience – the basis of social learning is to be social! We also know that learners want to work at their own pace and only interact when, and how, they want / feel most comfortable with. All of this is built into our guidance for learning design and taken onboard by educators building courses. 

Yet, despite it being an optional activity, we still see a quarter to half of learners – especially those working though courses, are also social. They add comments, reply to other learners and use tools similar to social media so they can interact with others and be part of a learning community within the course. We also know that being social includes a lot of reading, and replying to comments from others. Just reading comments, and therefore never posting your own, can still help learners learn from peers vicariously such as from more knowledgeable others sharing views and experiences for others to benefit from. 

The importance of social learning online

There also needs to be consideration for how to make the most effective social learning experiences possible. Many of us are currently missing the social interactions in education between peers – these flourish on FutureLearn – but also we’ve been doing this for years. Being social in learning isn’t making an introduction and then racing off to learn independently, it’s meant to be a connection of ideas, concepts, feedback, reflection and more. It’s the harder stuff that makes us think, share, ask questions and seek answers. 

We can’t (yet) claim a causal relationship between being social and looking at more course content, but there’s clearly a relationship. It’s this relationship that we see across other aspects too – but that’s for future blog posts. 

It may be just a graph to you – but to us it’s a sign that we’ve got a place that adds that key social connection to the learning experience which can’t be had when you’re force-fed videos and long texts. We offer all new learners a chance to read our Crowdsourced Guide to Learning which is a compendium on how to learn, as well as our 5 tips and tools for effective social learning

We know our strength is to build connections between learners’ minds, it happens to be social and the best feeling is finding the strands of evidence that it’s having a positive impact on our learners. 

The best way to find out more is to go and take a look for yourself by joining a course and taking part with other learners. 


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