Informal online networks for learning: making use of incidental learning through recreation
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
Contemporary tertiary students require a different set of skills from the population of students who attended university campuses even just a decade ago. The modern student is expected to be comfortable and often proficient with both printed and digital resources. Such a level of expertise is necessary not only so students can access study materials, but to also enable them to efficiently filter information, communicate using diverse methods and store relevant resources within practical and logical systems. Many university courses now include components which provide opportunities for students to develop digital information competencies and such skills are almost essential to succeed within current academic and employment contexts. This paper suggests that technologically related and information management skills and expertises need not only be developed within formal educational settings. It is our experience that the modern day student can be encouraged to access a variety of recreational digital resources and experience effective learning through these experiences in a more incidental, informal manner. We have identified five main categories of online networks: (1) common interest communities (e.g., e-groups, hobby sites); (2) competition and game sites (e.g., networked multi-player games, entering competitions); (3) file download sites (e.g., Napster, clipart); (4) corporate and e-commerce sites (e.g., internet banking, online shopping); and (5) information access sites (e.g., maps, timetables, White Pages). Participating in these online networks can allow students to develop many useful skills including database searching, information filtering, data storage and retrieval, critical analysis of resources and effective online communication. This paper examines a range of examples which demonstrate how a number of useful academic skills can be developed using non-traditional, less academic approaches in order to maintain and improve student motivation, enjoyment levels and learning outcomes in tertiary situations.