Google+ – A Big Buzz About Nothing?

I don’t usually write those kinds of “social media posts” where I ponder what some services might or might not do for us, but now that I’ve been using Google+ in a couple of authentic e-learning cases, I have to reflect it a little bit.

Everyone is currently discussing and writing about what happens between Google+ and Facebook, often going to the level of which one is better, who will dominate and yadda yadda yadda. This isn’t one of those posts.

When I started to experiment with Google+, still that time in its beta, I also thought a bit “So are they trying to swallow the market share from Facebook, or what is this?”

Now I don’t actually care too much about that. Through the eyes of authentic e-learning theory supported by open social media technologies, Google is really building something potentially remarkable with affordance we are just beginning to undersand, and also, at least I, is beginning to adore. And for me, that is way more interesting than just mere commercial dominance for the digital consumer souls. Here’s why.

I’ve been experimenting with Google+ & other Google Apps in my Master of Instructional Design & Technology studies and in an online collaborative teacher training programme. These both programmes have their backgrounds in authentic e-learning and social learning theories, and are using open social media services instead of just services clearly defined as VLEs (Virtual learning environments) e.g. Moodle or Blackboard Learning System. Although these are also in use, still have their place and are not totally forgotten.

I’m not sure if I can be explicit enough to describe what potential, or like I already stated affordance, lies in Google+ and using it in the authentic learning context, but there indeed is a huge one. But we also need to better understand and internalize the pedagogy needed for these service to live up to their potential.

As without people and the right kind of learning process to guide their way, these tools achieve nothing or at least much less. Using some of the older models of teaching, where teacher is the center of excellence, cripples the use of these tools and using them becomes just something cosmetic, not something revolutionizing.

Here’s some of the affordances of Google+, Google Apps & their integration that I feel are really worth mentioning after using them in learning.

You have the so called social layer, people interacting more informally, in this case supported by Google+. I feel many people don’t truly understand how important the informal interaction layer actually is. It helps the people to become a group, or a team. This is crucial in social learning process to start to happen.

Creating Circles of specific people, like your learning group or class, helps you easily post topics that may interest just them, or ask for help from those in your team. In a way these are very simple things, but psychologically, very important. It shifts the learning and the responsibility more to the learners, perfects their collaboration and stimulates their creativity when they are working together.

Hangout with extras, more advanced version of Hangout feature in Google+ which is still a bit under construction, is finally something you can use for collaborative video conferencing, to share your screen & write documents together in or from Google Docs (you can even start new ones straight from the Hangout). So everything’s in the same place. The usability of Hangout is simple enough and overall works quite well. If this feature evolves further, it could be a good alternative to challenge Adobe Connect and others.

These are just a couple of interesting features I feel are worth mentioning in this time when Google+ has been publicly open only a short period of time. Of course there are still gaps with Google’s attempt to integrate, well, just about everything. For example Blogger is a bit stiff and I’ve had to deal with many frustrated people trying to get its registration process to work seamlessly. But clearly, they are building an interesting ecosystem of services which can definitely be used together with suitable learning process.

And this what is happening is very important: When we have something where we have the social layer to easily interact and communicate with other people, the ease to create, collaborate and share, streamlined usability and learner centered approach from the get-go (as these are our own profiles through which we do things), we are a huge step forwards of a true 21st century learning environment, to use globally.

The learning environment isn’t just some class or the organizational VLE anymore, but everywhere you can find something to learn. The mental learning environment isn’t “on” only when you sleep in the class or interact with a learning management system. It’s where you create it.

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2 thoughts on “Google+ – A Big Buzz About Nothing?

  1. Thanks Marko, I enjoyed reading this post.

    One thing that I think is important to mention is that the tools are ‘free’. Of course, we know that they aren’t free because Google makes their money off of having large numbers of users who will occasionally click on their advertisements. But that is precisely the thing that makes them robust. If they didn’t work, we wouldn’t use them and if we didn’t use them Google would never make any money.

    This kind of pay-it-forward system is really what makes the development of ‘free’ tools so challenging while at the same time makes quality a critical factor. With services like Blackboard or Adobe, they already have their money before you get to use them. They are concerned with quality, but not nearly as much because once you’ve paid the price you are locked in. They can dump problems like getting through Firewalls and low connection speeds in the lap of their customers.

    Google and other free tool providers can’t. They solve the problems for you as much as they possibly can before they even invite you to try it.

    • Thanks Dean for the reply!

      What time after time amazes me, as I’ve recently been working in the business sector and doing work with usability and interaction design, is that how often many institutions stand bad systems and even pay for them. It’s not normal to buy something and if there are 100+ errors and difficulties to use the product you’ve purchased (often with large amount of money), one should at least get a refund or cancel the whole contract.

      As a professional user experience and interaction designer, I’d like to at least see some more customer-centered development happening. Actually that’s what Google and the other companies working with the new business paradigm methods do: They throw something to the masses as a beta version, listen to them and analyze. Easy and effective.

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