Building richer, closer learning experiences

September 11, 2007

f2f.jpgI’ve written about Internet friendships before after I joined Facebook back in June. I ran across a post on Smart Mobs yesterday that featured highlights of a current ongoing research study by Dr. Will Reader of Sheffield Hallam University about how blogs and texts could affect relationships. The study is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The SmartMobs post references a summary by Reuters of Dr. Reader’s talk yesterday at a meeting sponsored by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Not so surprising tidbits from Dr. Reader, an evolutionary psychologist….

  • More online friends does not mean more ‘close’ friends. The key (to close friendship), Dr. Reader said, is face-to-face interaction where “people can interpret social clues such as laughs and smiles that help determine if others are friends to be counted on.” (‘counted on’  probably means they show up at your house to help load the truck on moving day.)
  • Nearly all ‘close’ friends require f2f (face-to-face) contact.
  • Making friends is costly (time, energy) so…one of the possibilities is that changing the nature of networks can decrease the cost of maintaining friendships.

The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) also summarized some of Dr. Reader’s research…

While online social networks are very unlikely to ever replace real-life social networks, it is possible that their ability to aid communication may bring about a change in the size and structure of real-life social networks in the future.

I would say that, with Facebook anyway, the size and structure of my RL social network is growing. The ability to connect with people I haven’t seen in awhile, people in my community with similar interests, etc. grows my RL network. The RL connections/reconnections would not have happened without the online social network (at least for me).

Some personal virtual/real friendship experiences…

  • I was introduced to Joan Vinall-Cox by her blog. I then had the pleasure of meeting her while I was in Toronto. She blogged about it here. I felt (as Joan characterized) a richer presence after meeting f2f. I think much of that richness came from the opportunity to talk about the stuff we blog about – the kind of stuff others may not have much interest in talking about. But that richer presence, that closeness, came from our online relationship prior to meeting f2f. If I had just met Joan at a workshop in Toronto, we would not have had that connection. (digression alert…I bored my family to death when explaining online social networks [they ASKED first]…not only did they see me as a cyclops, they wouldn’t/couldn’t make the leap. One of my sisters said the Internet was a fad. I know, right?? New name: Dino-sister.) Anyway…
  • I was an online learner at Capella Univeristy. I never met my classmates f2f but knew a lot about them based on our online conversations and felt sad when our classes ended. I think meeting f2f would have made the relationships richer.
  • I am a f2f learner at Syracuse University. I haven’t met everyone in my class yet. It takes 3-4 meetings to actually meet everyone f2f during our 10 minute breaks. I have a greater connection with the two classmates that I met on Facebook before I started class. (We joined in the break out group in class last night because we kind of ‘knew each other’ already via Facebook).
  • New Hire Orientation at a company I worked for was f2f. When learners who met as new hires later attended live online learning classes together, they interacted more with each other than people who had never met f2f. Richer, closer.

I mostly agree with the research (not sure about the cost factor) and it supports research around the effectiveness of blended learning experiences (at least by the most common definition of blended – f2f + e-learning). Online learning (even just introductions) should precede (and follow) f2f learning to develop richer, closer relationships and richer learning experiences. I’m not sure any of my online friends will show up at my house though when it comes time to move. That’s a job for dino-sister.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    Janet, this post resonated with me on several levels.

    Haagen-Dazs used to make a carob ice cream (don’t know if they still do). I liked it. It wasn’t chocolate; I didn’t see it as a substitute for chocolate. I just liked the carob.

    Some people only meet virtually, and that suits them, as the carob did me. Many people benefit from a variety of ways of interacting, and my taste buds benefit from switching to blueberry or pumpkin pie ice cream.

    For people greatly separated by distance who are unlikely to meet face to face, virtual contact (by phone, by email, by blog) offers the potential for increasing the size of their network, which in turn offers the potential to increase its richness. A lot depends on how they interact and how they experience interaction (e.g., genuine sharing versus flame wars).

    I think that all things being equal, face-to-face meeting offers the greatest potential — but as you say, having virtually met Joan Vinall-Cox through her blog helped to enhance your physical meeting with her. My opportunity to bump into you physically is much less than my opportunity to listen to and respond to you here.

    It’s not either-or, of course, it’s both-and.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    Janet, this post resonated with me on several levels.

    Haagen-Dazs used to make a carob ice cream (don’t know if they still do). I liked it. It wasn’t chocolate; I didn’t see it as a substitute for chocolate. I just liked the carob.

    Some people only meet virtually, and that suits them, as the carob did me. Many people benefit from a variety of ways of interacting, and my taste buds benefit from switching to blueberry or pumpkin pie ice cream.

    For people greatly separated by distance who are unlikely to meet face to face, virtual contact (by phone, by email, by blog) offers the potential for increasing the size of their network, which in turn offers the potential to increase its richness. A lot depends on how they interact and how they experience interaction (e.g., genuine sharing versus flame wars).

    I think that all things being equal, face-to-face meeting offers the greatest potential — but as you say, having virtually met Joan Vinall-Cox through her blog helped to enhance your physical meeting with her. My opportunity to bump into you physically is much less than my opportunity to listen to and respond to you here.

    It’s not either-or, of course, it’s both-and.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Dave-
    I love the analogy. I didn’t really think about the negative ways people interact online (flame wars, etc.). The edublogggers are a pretty nice bunch. If I had a political blog, I’m sure it’d be a very different experience. I’ve found everyone in my virtual social network to be helpful and generous; there isn’t one person I wouldn’t want to meet f2f. As well, the opportunity to listen and respond to people you would never have met in any other way has let me see the world through many different eyes. Like right now. Thanks, as always.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Dave-
    I love the analogy. I didn’t really think about the negative ways people interact online (flame wars, etc.). The edublogggers are a pretty nice bunch. If I had a political blog, I’m sure it’d be a very different experience. I’ve found everyone in my virtual social network to be helpful and generous; there isn’t one person I wouldn’t want to meet f2f. As well, the opportunity to listen and respond to people you would never have met in any other way has let me see the world through many different eyes. Like right now. Thanks, as always.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    When you’re in the DC area, the ice cream (or the Guinness) is on me.

    Many of my virtual connections are like yours; I’ve made professional and personal friends even through listservs (read, comment, exchange back-channel notes). Still, we all know people (including some in the training/learning realm) whose first reaction would be, “You like carob? What’s wrong with you?”

    As with the media-in-learning issue, maybe the central question is the nature of your relationship with a given person (analogous to the goals you have for your own learning) and whether the channels available for that relationship can help achieve the goals at a given time. Some folks hate to talk on the phone, but face-to-face, their relationship thrives as if there’d been no hiatus. Some folks can feel awkward in new face-to-face and can take quite a while before they feel free to give and take; the virtual realm can help them manage that.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    When you’re in the DC area, the ice cream (or the Guinness) is on me.

    Many of my virtual connections are like yours; I’ve made professional and personal friends even through listservs (read, comment, exchange back-channel notes). Still, we all know people (including some in the training/learning realm) whose first reaction would be, “You like carob? What’s wrong with you?”

    As with the media-in-learning issue, maybe the central question is the nature of your relationship with a given person (analogous to the goals you have for your own learning) and whether the channels available for that relationship can help achieve the goals at a given time. Some folks hate to talk on the phone, but face-to-face, their relationship thrives as if there’d been no hiatus. Some folks can feel awkward in new face-to-face and can take quite a while before they feel free to give and take; the virtual realm can help them manage that.

  • Nora Livesay

    Your analogies really resonated with me. I am currently in an online masters program and the f2f vs online time is challenge for many of the cohort (including me) to manage. We are all new to online networking, and although some of us have been blogging for awhile we haven’t come up to speed on some of the other web 2.0 technologies. It still feels a bit weird to network online — and I wonder sometimes… how often do people check email and blogs to keep up with this all?

  • Nora Livesay

    Your analogies really resonated with me. I am currently in an online masters program and the f2f vs online time is challenge for many of the cohort (including me) to manage. We are all new to online networking, and although some of us have been blogging for awhile we haven’t come up to speed on some of the other web 2.0 technologies. It still feels a bit weird to network online — and I wonder sometimes… how often do people check email and blogs to keep up with this all?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Dave, I’ll go with the Guinness. Thanks.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Dave, I’ll go with the Guinness. Thanks.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Nora-
    I think bloggers check other blogs and email more often than the non-bloggers. It’s been a trade off of time- for me it was dumping a bit of the TV I was watching. The online component was more time consuming for me than I’m finding the f2f environment. However, online environment was easier to deal with because I spend a little time each day vs. a lot of time the day before class and class time. Karyn Romeis had a post a short time ago that made me laugh. She said, “he other view I encounter quite often is that we are a sad bunch of people with no real friends.” http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/search?q=bloggers

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Nora-
    I think bloggers check other blogs and email more often than the non-bloggers. It’s been a trade off of time- for me it was dumping a bit of the TV I was watching. The online component was more time consuming for me than I’m finding the f2f environment. However, online environment was easier to deal with because I spend a little time each day vs. a lot of time the day before class and class time. Karyn Romeis had a post a short time ago that made me laugh. She said, “he other view I encounter quite often is that we are a sad bunch of people with no real friends.” http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/search?q=bloggers

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    I’m seeing another analogy (too bad there’s not a brisker market for these). It has to do with structure versus content… the way a Word document or a web page has structure (styles, fonts, spacing, etc.) that’s separate from but attached to the content (the words, images, and context).

    So too with our interpersonal networks. I do think there are some people whose online networks probably are sad bunches of people with no real friends… but that’s not very different from people who hang out at some bar or people whose lives revolve around being fashion-forward.

    (From the outside, of course, people tend to onflate structure and content, as in “online network = not a real network = no friends.” Or, “adds ‘2.0’ after stuff” = “must be cool and cutting-edge.”)

    Other people are in networks that hang out at the same bar (that’s the structure, the beer-and-margarita CSS), but the content of the network is different for them. Richer, broader exchanges; openness to others, openness about oneself.

    A tangential notion is that if you only go to sports bars or string quartet concerts, you tend to run into people who are into sports or into string quartets. Not good, not bad — it has to do with how varied you want your networks to be. If everyone you know has an iPod, you tend to forget that lots of people are getting by with other brands, and millions more are managing to survive without any kind of portable media device.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    I’m seeing another analogy (too bad there’s not a brisker market for these). It has to do with structure versus content… the way a Word document or a web page has structure (styles, fonts, spacing, etc.) that’s separate from but attached to the content (the words, images, and context).

    So too with our interpersonal networks. I do think there are some people whose online networks probably are sad bunches of people with no real friends… but that’s not very different from people who hang out at some bar or people whose lives revolve around being fashion-forward.

    (From the outside, of course, people tend to onflate structure and content, as in “online network = not a real network = no friends.” Or, “adds ‘2.0’ after stuff” = “must be cool and cutting-edge.”)

    Other people are in networks that hang out at the same bar (that’s the structure, the beer-and-margarita CSS), but the content of the network is different for them. Richer, broader exchanges; openness to others, openness about oneself.

    A tangential notion is that if you only go to sports bars or string quartet concerts, you tend to run into people who are into sports or into string quartets. Not good, not bad — it has to do with how varied you want your networks to be. If everyone you know has an iPod, you tend to forget that lots of people are getting by with other brands, and millions more are managing to survive without any kind of portable media device.

  • http://eduspaces.net/vinall/weblog/ Joan Vinall-Cox

    I’m late to the party because my fall has been amazingly busy but I wanted to say that I agree fully that our previous blogging connections not only ALLOWED us to get together; it made the f2f time richer and more substantial. Now, even when I’m buried in new work, I make a real effort to get to your blog, even if I’m late, ’cause I KNOW you.

  • http://eduspaces.net/vinall/weblog/ Joan Vinall-Cox

    I’m late to the party because my fall has been amazingly busy but I wanted to say that I agree fully that our previous blogging connections not only ALLOWED us to get together; it made the f2f time richer and more substantial. Now, even when I’m buried in new work, I make a real effort to get to your blog, even if I’m late, ’cause I KNOW you.

  • Barb McDonald

    Janet,
    When I read about this “research” that proves that f2f is richer than online, I worry. I have “lived” online for about 10 years now. I think what we need to focus our research on is the new skills we need to have to make online as rich as f2f.

    I met my husband online. He is from Dublin, Ireland and was living there when we met. We chatted and used various media (but mostly chat) to get to know each other over 2.5 years. I also met other men this way. Several of them I met in person. Most of them were, in person, just as they were online. So was my husband. I fell in love with him before we even met in person. He did with me, too. We met in person in March, 2002, filled out the fiance visa application in April, were engaged in July, and married in October. After 5 years, he hasn’t done or said anything that has surprised me (except the oouple of times he did something romantic).

    I have worked with people around the world and then met them in person. In my mind, the f2f was just a continuation of the online. It wasn’t richer, because the interaction online is already quite rich. And the beauty of it is, that, because we are all comfortable building and sustaining relationships online, i don’t have to worry about losing touch.

    My two best friends from my childhood live nearby. We all did the family thing at different times, so we don’t have that to bind us together. Because they don’t have online lives, I find it harder to stay connected with them.

    I dunno. Does anyone else find it odd that such a definitive line is drawn between online and f2f?

  • Barb McDonald

    Janet,
    When I read about this “research” that proves that f2f is richer than online, I worry. I have “lived” online for about 10 years now. I think what we need to focus our research on is the new skills we need to have to make online as rich as f2f.

    I met my husband online. He is from Dublin, Ireland and was living there when we met. We chatted and used various media (but mostly chat) to get to know each other over 2.5 years. I also met other men this way. Several of them I met in person. Most of them were, in person, just as they were online. So was my husband. I fell in love with him before we even met in person. He did with me, too. We met in person in March, 2002, filled out the fiance visa application in April, were engaged in July, and married in October. After 5 years, he hasn’t done or said anything that has surprised me (except the oouple of times he did something romantic).

    I have worked with people around the world and then met them in person. In my mind, the f2f was just a continuation of the online. It wasn’t richer, because the interaction online is already quite rich. And the beauty of it is, that, because we are all comfortable building and sustaining relationships online, i don’t have to worry about losing touch.

    My two best friends from my childhood live nearby. We all did the family thing at different times, so we don’t have that to bind us together. Because they don’t have online lives, I find it harder to stay connected with them.

    I dunno. Does anyone else find it odd that such a definitive line is drawn between online and f2f?

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