Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Investigation of Mobile-Mediated Social Learning Using Socio-Constructivism


Mobile phones are hardly used for teaching and learning in the study setting, the Polytechnic of Namibia. Formal learning that is widespread in the study setting does not allow the design of authentic learning tasks. Nevertheless, mobile learning allows the design of authentic learning tasks and enables students to construct knowledge socially in an informal learning environment that facilitates interaction and collaboration. Learning is a boundless social activity that takes place through engagement with others. As learning takes place through interaction, it cannot be confined to the classroom; it should involve transition between formal and informal learning. Learning is hence not confined to didactic methods and does not only take place through transmission of knowledge. New forms of learning are emerging whereby student interaction is enabled by technological tools, unlike formal learning that does not necessitate online tools. Mobile devices might thus be used to mediate convergence of formal and informal learning. 

This study was aimed to investigate how mobile-mediated social learning converges formal and informal learning, using a socio-constructivist approach. The study was conducted in the Department of Languages at the Polytechnic of Namibia in two phases, the pilot phase that was conducted in 2012, and the main study that was conducted in 2013. The study involved a total of ten students doing Language in Practice. 

Mobile applications, social media tools inclusive, have potential to change the traditional pattern of learning. They enable social construction of knowledge. As a social media tool, WhatsApp was used in this study as a platform for the participants in the study to exchange ideas and construct knowledge collaboratively. 

The WhatsApp tool that was used in the study is popular among students and is used both in and out of the institution and could thus be used to establish convergence of formal and informal learning. In addition to instant messaging, another key affordance of WhatsApp is its ability to form a closed group of participants that interact with other iii students, the instructor and the community at large. This tool paved the way for authentic learning that led to convergence. 

The study was a case study of qualitative nature but also drew on action research, and it adopted an interpretive approach to data analysis and interpretation. Multiple sources of evidence were used to collect data, i.e. individual open-ended guided interviews, artefacts in the form of an authentic task using WhatsApp, and focus group discussion. The study revealed that the pedagogical design of an authentic task mediated by a social media tool, WhatsApp, where a sub-community of students interact with others and the larger community results in cognitive convergence of formal and informal learning. A closed group of students using the tool has potential to converge formal and informal learning cognitively through shared understanding. Thus, using a social media tool that students find motivating in an authentic context brings in cognitive convergence of formal and informal learning if the instructor observes activities and provides guidance. 

Key words: socio-constructivism, convergence, formal learning, informal learning, mobile-learning, social learning, authentic learning.

This study by Elina Ithindi of the Namibian University of Science and Technology was part of her Master of Education degree at the University of Cape Town. The full study is available from: An Investigation of Mobile-Mediated Social Learning Using Socio-Constructivism

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