Social Status Online: A Ladder to Climb or Dance Floor to Join

In life, our learning begins as soon as were born, but most of us don’t receive training until later.  Training is that deliberate attempt to induce learning within us, and some kind of behavioral change is (almost?) always desired.  In our early years, the parent/child relationsip is the primary socail dynamic.  As we age however, things get a little more complicated and stay that way. 


Children in grades K-12 suffer through the most elaborate attempt at training ever conceived, and social factors play a significant role.  Back in school, those of us who were not in the obvious in-crowd formed our own little in-crowds.  We judged the cool kids to be superficial snobs who thought they were better than the rest of us.  By judging them, we assured ourselves that we were the superior ones.  We committed reverse snobbery. Ah, adolescence! Thank goodness we’ve all grown up, right?  Right?  Experienced trainers (and participants) have observed similar clique formations in training environments. 


Visit any 7th grade dance and you’ll see a group of cool kids who dance and a group  of kids who refuse to dance because it isn’t cool.  How many of the latter group would join the dancers if they simply knew the steps?  And how many of the dancers would change the steps as soon as the outsiders knew them?  When it comes to e-learning, are you leaning against the wall of the gym, or are you strutting around in a white Travolta suit? 


Alas, neither embracing nor avoiding e-learning frees us from our human nature.   

Is it a coincidence that the relatively new interest in “Status Updates” reveals the age-old interest in Social Status?  Status is status is status.   As social beings, isn’t our interest in status the result of how we, ourselves, are programmed?  Our own programming is older than our computers’.

The E-Learning Community, just like any other online community, mirrors “real life.”  Social hierarchies evolve, and online communities adopt both the postive and negative aspects of offline communities.  This tendency actually legitimizes cyberspace as a place where authentic interaction occurs. 

Trainers contend with these group dynamics when providing classroom training.  Is learning hindered by the existence of an in-crowd?  Are legitimate points of view dismissed because of social standing within a group?   Are outsiders intimidated?  As trainers, we can apply these questions to our own online community.    

Answering these questions can improve the discourse we share and prepare us to address similar issues in the online environments we create for our learners.


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