Altruism or why do teens help one another online?

“Facebook and Twitter may topple autocratic regimes, but it will be blended learning that empowers hundreds of millions of youth to lead healthy and more productive lives.”   — Tom Vander Ark

Online courseware by itself does not offer a supportive learning experience or the engagement and motivation needed to keep students in schools and colleges. Studies show 60% of students find video lectures “boring” (Mann, 2009), and 60% of students read less when using e-textbooks (Rickman et al, 2009).  In the Silent Epidemic studyfunded by the Gates Foundation, 47% of dropouts said a major reason for dropping out was that “classes were not interesting” and they were “bored”. Remarkably, 88% of dropouts had passing grades (Bridgeland et al, 2006). These students are not failing out of school; they are simply disengaging.

Therein lies the core problem: How to engage a generation of learners, who live on the Internet yet tune out of school, who seek interaction on Facebook yet find none on iTunes U, who need community yet are only offered content.  Clearly the answer has to have a digital element – because we know that is where our cyberteens live 24/7.  But online learning alone can’t keep them engaged, and we have plenty of studies that prove that.  Here is where the recent studies on “Blended learning” provide encouraging results.

Blended learning adds a human element, through faculty or teaching assistants to keep learners engaged.  But how do you scale this solution to the millions of self directed learners online, or  reach out globally?  The answer has to be peer-to-peer: empower, enable, facilitate conversations around learning, so learners can help each other.  It is social, you can chat about stuff, it is timely, someone around the world is sure to be online to answer, and often the help may often be more useful than what teacher or instructor may provide.

You may say, “I can understand the panicky teen asking for help before a test, but will there be someone to help? And why would they bother? ” If you have a minute, take a look at the Mathematics group on OpenStudy. (http://openstudy.com/groups/mathematics).

Yes, questions are posted in rapid succession, but you will find people taking time to  use the equation editor to craft a solution to a problem.  There is always someone wanting to help.  Altruism is certainly alive and doing well amongst these cyberteens.  And it is through these conversations facilitated by blended learning, that we will engage and empower millions of learners, everywhere.

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About Preetha Ram

I am an educator (Dean for PreHealth and Science Education at Emory), social entrepreneur (Cofounder of OpenStudy, a global study group to connect learners) and visionary (let's build a classroom for the world to study together). A chemist by training (Yale), I like to solve problems by building bridges at the edges and interstices of disciplinary boundaries.

Posted on April 15, 2011, in E-learning. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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