In many ways, all learning is social: that’s what institutions of higher education, libraries, and online databases represent. No knowledge arises from some single isolated scholar. The best ideas of today build on (and challenge!) each other as well as the best ideas of yesterday—just think of how our current understanding of global environmental processes has built on the contributions of a wide range of scholars and disciplinary fields.
Some use the term social learning to refer to how people acquire behavioral and cognitive knowledge. In our SGE context, social learning refers more broadly to the ways new web-based social media can enhance research. This has been a key feature of Lewis & Clark’s Environmental Studies Program, whose students and faculty utilize a number of web-based technologies in their research. The concept map on the right summarizes how we use a number of web collaboration tools (including Cmap Tools, used to develop this diagram!) to reinforce key learning objectives in Lewis & Clark’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts. Click on this concept map to reveal a larger, functional version with links to examples. The process by which social learning unfolds on our SGE site is visually summarized by another Cmap here. In brief, this approach cumulatively constructs a scholarly “big picture” of environmental issues, situating the global environment via the incremental contributions of individual and team researchers as they go about their work. Participating researchers benefit each other and benefit SGE site viewers by sharing a variety of scholarly resources: blog updates, data, imagery, documents, publications, maps, and so forth. These resources are dynamically organized by our SGE WordPress site, and can be readily searched, retrieved, commented on, and added to, creating an ongoing social learning environment supporting environmental research! SGE-style social learning does take a little more time and technical know-how on the part of our researchers. But they learn a set of advanced skills that are highly in demand today, and they benefit intellectually by sharing resources, comparing in-progress work, and situating their contributions in the context of our broader swath of SGE scholarship. And, of course, you the web visitor can benefit from our researchers’ contributions as well!