Social learning technologies: Are they created equal?

Paula Charbonneau-Gowdy, Ivana Cechova

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The use of internet and web-based technologies in educational systems is having serious implications for learners and educators alike. In these learning-based systems, control over information and what, where, how and to whom it is disseminated, has been traditionally all that mattered. With the advent of computer technologies, these traditional views of information and learning are being questioned, and in some instances so too is the need for the institutions themselves. While learning was once predicated on information-transfer activities such as lectures, demonstrations and modeling, it is increasingly being recognized from a social constructivist perspective as an inter-subjective activity. From this perspective, human interaction becomes the precursor of cognition, i.e. higher order thinking. Nobel prize winner, Carl Wieman's decision to abandon his research in Physics to dedicate his efforts to promoting social constructivist approaches in higher education science classes, is an example of the momentum of this movement. Evidence of the adoption of social learning technologies in formal learning sites is another. Recent educational policies being put in place in several countries in the European Union, for example, reflect the significance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for the field of education (eEurope 2002, eEurope 2005). While the implementation of such policies and technologies and the pedagogical changes they represent are encouraging in and of themselves, the assessment of the technologies and their comparative value to learning in these sites has been less forthcoming. The questions we ask ourselves when reflecting on these policies in choosing various ICT's for formal learning sites are: What are the implications of social learning technologies on learners' identities in formal learning sites? How do social learning technologies influence learning? Seeking answers to such questions has preoccupied us for the last 10 years. These questions were the original impetus for a doctoral qualitative action research project (Charbonneau-Gowdy, 2009) that examined social interactive asynchronous technologies such as networked forums and chats in the context of language learning. Disappointing findings early in the study, using certain social interactive technologies, led to the establishment of the Partnerships for Learning Pilot Program (PLPP). The PPLP was conceived as an international project to connect teachers in Canada and learners in multiple sites within countries new to the EU for the purpose of learning English. The interactive discussion sessions were supported by video-based web conferencing technology. Ethnographic methods were employed to determine the influence of the technology-supported discussions on the participants' foreign language identities and their language-learning. In 2006 and 2007, in the context of a second doctoral study (Cechova, anticipated 2010) within the PLPP, the second author added her own findings to this ongoing research. These findings provide significant quantitative support to the claim that not all ICTs are equal when it comes to learning a language. Cechova's study also applies Grounded Theory, a qualitative research method in which a complex system of procedures is used to create a derived theory about a particular phenomenon (Strauss, Corbinova, 1999). By doing so, she provides further evidence of a theoretical expression of the reality of the participants' experiences. The paper describes our research using various computer technologies, the respective methodologies and findings as well as suggests implications of this research for a broad range of educational fields. We conclude that video-based web conferencing technology provides opportunities for learner agency, identity and knowledge construction in a way that few other technologies have shown. The research will be of interest to stakeholders in education and those who seek to be informed users and or promoters of computer technology for learning purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication9th European Conference on eLearning 2010, ECEL 2010
PublisherAcademic Conferences Limited
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9781622767069
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Event9th European Conference on eLearning 2010, ECEL 2010 - Porto, Portugal
Duration: 4 Nov 20105 Nov 2010


Other9th European Conference on eLearning 2010, ECEL 2010


  • Identity and knowledge construction
  • Social learning technologies
  • Video-based web conferencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Education


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