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EdTech Is Broken: Social Learning Can Fix It

Ever wondered why humans are called social animals? It’s because socialising is our inherent nature. However, unlike other animals, humans also tend to learn through observing others’ behaviours. Our fundamental beliefs and worldviews are often shaped by observing how those around us react to different opinions. This is what psychologists call social learning. While social learning is usually associated with learning specific content, it is actually a process that we use subconsciously, every day of our lives. Compared to traditional formal learning techniques, social learning focuses on how we interact with our peers for just-in-time learning and skill acquisition — a maxim of the 70:20:10 learning framework. The methodology suggests that about 70% of learning happens via challenging experiences and assignments, 20% through developmental relationships, and just 10% in traditional, instructor-led classroom environments.

Social learning and Edtech

Who said learning has to boring? When we talk about social learning, a major component of it is interaction and fun. EdTech platforms can make the process of learning fun and interactive in various ways. Though the machines aren’t designed to replace human interaction, they can make those interactions more meaningful and help create more substantial learning experiences for students. And this is made possible through a set of ubiquitous features and concepts applied to virtual learning-based communities, such as:

  • A message-first approach: Information and knowledge sharing in such communities is primarily through messages — either in the form of text, audio, or video — accessible to all relevant people belonging to that group/community. Such information is shared keeping in mind the common goal of the entire community.
  • Organised channels: Whilst communities do have a specific goal to begin with, the goal could be broad enough such that it could be divided into sub-goals, such that exchange of information is decluttered and easily retrievable. For example, a community of an MBA cohort might have their communities split across the different subjects (or “channels”) in their course, such as strategy, marketing, finance, etc., such that discussions pertaining to each subject can happen in that specific “channel”.
  • Gamification: In order to ensure high-level engagement and community building, users need to be incentivised through rewards, in exchange for certain pre-defined, specific actions. A well-structured and balanced system of effort and rewards is a significant factor that decides the successful implementation of virtual communities. For example, a class 12 student might earn internet points by helping solve a doubt of another classmate (wherein the solution is verified/confirmed by that classmate). These internet points could translate into benefits such as ranking on the leadership status, or earning Paytm cashbacks, Amazon book vouchers, etc.
  • Experts/Mentors/Moderators: For learning to be efficient in a pool of children teaching each other, it is imperative that the community is supervised/moderated by an expert, who can course correct when misinformation or misconduct prevails. This ensures that the right and correct form of information is flowing through the communities. The use of bots is also highly prevalent in message-based communities as they follow predetermined protocols to achieve a certain goal.

Utility across the value chain

Online communities-based learning is extremely effective across the learning value chain, right from KG to adult upskilling:

  • K12: Engaging kids for learning new concepts through a screen can be a herculean task — but with parental and teacher guidance, chat-based learning groups can lead to exceptional outcomes. Imagine a discord server for a certain class, which gate-keeps such that only students from that class can enter. Furthermore, each server can have channels which are dedicated to particular subjects, where discussions for only those subjects are entertained. Questions, test papers, sharing of reading material, etc. can happen through chat. Furthermore, there could be channels related to extra-curricular learning as well.
  • Test Preparation: Similar to the K12 use case, there could be purpose/subject-specific channels which can be used by the same group to exchange knowledge and information. Discussions on previous years’ papers, on-demand sessions from mentors, sharing alternative approaches to answering questions, etc. are various use-cases of virtual community-based learning.
  • Hobbies and interests: Learning something new is always fun when done in conjunction with others. There’s a certain appeal to learning and progressing as group, especially when it comes to extra-curricular learning. Virtual communities based on hobbies could help reinforce learning by sharing with, and teaching others. For example, someone from a guitar-learning community might learn a new song, and share a recording of them playing it with the others in the community. Community members might interact and engage with the content, and even ask the person to teach it to the rest of the community. Additionally, in interest-based communities, people could debate and share opinions, leading to newer ideas and changed perceptions.
  • Upskilling/Lifelong Learning: The pandemic saw an uptick in people realising that the world is extremely past-faced, and upskilling is the only way to ensure job security. Consequently, adult learners realised the power of Cohort based courses (CBCs) in aiding learning.

Basically, a CBC is a program that’s structured for a specific learning outcome, and is taken by a group of students (a cohort) at the same time. And when learning happens in a group, is it invariably going to lead to post-class discussions amongst students. This is where tools such as custom LMSs, and even Discord, Slack, etc. become extremely relevant. Such apps enable learners from various background to share their experiences, and different perspectives — ultimately fortifying learning.

Indian and International startups in this space:

  • Habitat: The company puts forth a communication-first pedagogy and centralises all learning activities like discussions, clearing doubts, study-plan iterations, on-demand lectures, notes sharing and assessments. The platform functions like an organised cluster of WhatsApp or Telegram groups with a chosen mentor creating lectures on the go with the students. Students are empowered to select their mentors, peer groups and course speed. Habitat serves information-heavy exam segments (UPSC, State PCS, RBI, etc.) using machine learning and natural language processing for interactive learning. To date, Habitat has built a live and active community for the IAS aspirants and has about 10,000+ subscribers and 200,000+ conversations.
  • Avalon: Avalon Meta is a 100% digital university for new-age skills. It aims at bridging the gap between traditional education and real-world practical education. It has clocked over 200 million impressions since its soft launch in 2017. Avalon Scenes is a platform that helps people find fun and exciting communities to be a part of and have conversations. It’s like Discord but a lot simpler and more enhanced.
  • BlueLearn: The company provides a platform for students to learn new skills, network with like-minded peers, and get exposure from top industry experts, according to its website. Apart from this, it also has clubs which are a collection of interest based micro-communities where kids can exchange ideas and thoughts on their collective hobby. At present, this community has organically grown to 42,000 members with 20,000 MAUs from 14 countries across the globe including India, USA, UK, Singapore and others.
  • Study 24*7: This platform was established in the year 2018 with the aim of connecting learners and educators on the same platform while letting them make the most of their educational needs. To provide regular feedback, educators can make use of the real time interactive chat system incorporated in the platform. Regular quizzes and formative assessments create a ground for active learning and a constant feedback loop. Educators can also track student progress through the inbuilt reporting tools. Currently, it has more than 55,000+ educators and 2,00,000+ questions asked on its platform.
  • NextMeet: This startup has developed a VR platform for remote working, collaboration, and distance learning. The platform has incorporated interactive environments, spatial audio and 3D avatars that let users interact with each other virtually over the metaverse. This can make learning through comforts of home and also more interactive and engaging as compared to video calls.
  • Invact Metaversity: The company provides employability-focused training in specific domains like marketing, product management, business analytics, finance etc. The university is being built in the metaverse in order to foster an environment conducive to learning and give the students a real university feel in the virtual world.
  • Kluster Edtech: The platform is designed specifically with knowledge management and embedded learning tools with an aim to turn online learning from a single-player to a multiplayer experience and give students a social space where they can hang, study, and learn from each other.

Future of Social Learning

  • As technology advances to bring us new immersive and imaginary worlds, our current education model must also advance to meet these new opportunities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of digital social learning has increasingly come into focus. This is only going to get stronger.
  • AI and VR driven education: While virtual realities are already being implemented in schools, it can provide an individualised learning experience to each student. In the coming years, we can expect to be wearing VR headsets as we play games, explore art and architecture, and even as we learn. We will also be able to create shared virtual environments, where learners can interact with one another using personalised avatars.

Education needs innovation to keep it fresh and relevant. It is not just the teachers and educators who form it, but also the students who shape it. Enhancing Social learning through EdTech connects a diverse audience of motivated learners by providing an environment for collaboration, brainstorming and self and group learning. As these digital transformations get underway, it is important that nobody is left behind. Empowered by technology and tools, our education system can indeed scale up to edify, prepare and empower them to scale new heights.

Thus, social learning is a powerful lever for creating caring, skilled young individuals, and help young minds to fully succeed in life. To sum up the importance of social learning, we can only think of renowned American revolutionist Benjamin Franklin’s quote:” Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”.

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