Being Mobile Blog

K-12 Needs Social Learning!

The following story — fiction, sort of — illustrates the pervasiveness of “social” as an adjective in our daily lives. 

You are playing a social game, World of Warcraft, when your spouse suggests a dinner on the town. Since you are new to the area, you tap into your social network to find out where the best Mexican food can be had in Kearney (NE). After an old chum from high school, now living in Kearney, points you to Mi Casa, you login into Yelp using your social login, which you use for Facebook and all your other social networks to check for more social proof about the quality of the restaurant. (Back in the day, you never did trust your “old chum’s” taste in just about anything.) You review the text and the video — the social media — created by others who have eaten at Mi Casa.

But what catches your eye in the sidebar is a story about a project at Boston Children’s Hospital to create social robots that interact with chronically ill children and help them to feel better. At dinner, you mention this article to your spouse, whose job is providing social services to children whose social location in the economic pecking order is considered low socioeconomic status — a fancy way of saying that they're economically poor.

Your spouse has been arguing for some time now that the government has broken its social contract with its people. The safety net is full of holes! (N.B. We, the authors, are not taking sides; just putting words in your spouse’s mouth. :) ).

You have a great meal at Mi Casa! While enjoying sopaipillas with honey, you whip out your smartphone, open up Yelp, find the review of Mi Casa you used in the first place, and add your two cents to the social media review.

A short, but telling story, full of "social" this and "social" that. Social as an adjective is not a new idea! We are, after all, at our core, social animals. And in all this socializing, what we are doing is actually social learning. From learning about where to have dinner to learning about the relationship of government to its people, we are learning with and from each other constantly Our implicit goal in all this social learning is to help us to live a better, more productive and joyful life.

While we are social animals, we need to learn how to be effective social learners. If we were lucky, we learned how to learn with and from each other at the dinner table, in a safe and caring environment. Sadly, many of today’s children do not have the opportunity to develop social learning skills at the dinner table. You, as educators, know what is coming next: K-12 must take up the slack and help teach children how to be effective social learners so they know how to learn from and with each other.

A term that is gaining currency in K-12 education these days is “social emotional learning.” Schools need to provide explicit programs to help children develop the “soft skills” of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

We need to develop social learning skills; we need to learn to get along with each other. But, with the current focus on “personalized learning,” where students sit, with headphones, isolated from their peers, in front of computer screen, for a substantial part of the school day, K-12 is in grave danger of missing the point of education: to develop citizens who can work together, joyfully, in social harmony.

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at