Reading George's blog post on "Losing interest in social media: there is no there there", got me reflecting the use of social media for academic purposes and the whole MOOC thing and connectivism too.
The key reflection – I mentioned on the MOOCast this afternoon – is the point that large networks of people equate to shallow connections. That is, the information that is shared and discussed with a large group of people will necessarily be superficial or high level. The deeper you engage in a topic, the more people you lose. You cannot have an in-depth discussion with too many people – it just doesn't work that way. As topics get more detailed and more complex, people lose interest. In addition, any given person only has so much cognitive energy – so they just can't engage in all topics deeply.
What does this mean for connectivism and MOOCs? First of all, MOOCs will necessarily begin with a high level discussions. People will seek out their "circles" of interest – but the general broadcasts will always be broad. If a smaller group of people decide to get together and discuss a topic, the only hope of it converting to a more in-depth conversation is if the people involved engage and commit to going to that deeper level. We do see that type of engagement when you look at the collaborative work that occurs in connection with a MOOC.
Does deeper work occur in social media? It really depends on where you look and who you connect with. If you use social media primarily as a broadcast media (and many people do) then no, you are likely only accessing shallow content. But, if you can find a smaller group of people who are interested and willing to engage in a topic, then yes, you can use social media for deeper discussions. You just have to find the right connections, which is not necessarily an easy task.
Another interesting observation, is that I use social media like Twitter and Google Hangounts for synchronous in-depth discussions. I don't find either to provide any depth for async – but when you are interacting in real time, with a smaller group of people, the social media tools are effective. For async in-depth discussions, then I find Google Groups or other discussion board software to be an effective mechanism.
So, I'm not ready to throw out social media yet – I still find it very useful.