Event Based Learning: Why you should follow the hashtag

Two days ago I took part in World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, joining online discussions, sharing resources and meeting people from all over the world on social media. Today is World Mental Health Day and I’m doing the same (though admittedly less energetically).  These aren’t coincidences – they are part of an evolving pedagogical innovation know as Event Based Learning (EBL), which I believe is a compelling intervention that goes against the increasingly fragmented and competitive discourse in health and social care by celebrating and exploiting shared purpose.

Why EBL?

Events, like stories, are personally and culturally significant because they define our identity as individuals, teams, organisations and societies. Learning that is based on shared events has a similar sense of occasion.  Like key events such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Remembrance Sunday, EBL has simultaneous local and wide scale engagement, impacting upon individuals whilst also crossing geographical and professional boundaries.  It does this by resting upon shared purpose, with shared artefacts – notably the social media hashtag.  However, it is the enthusiasm and dedication of participants, augmented by national or international recognition and amplified by technology, that makes EBL stand out as a pedagogical tool.  It combines real-time and asynchronous technologies such as television, social media and online games to gather and disseminate knowledge, whilst keeping learners intentionally or unintentionally engaged and entertained.  In 2013 I recall being gripped by an online game called Epifection, which replicated a fictitious epidemic outbreak, timed to coincide with The British Science Festival.  It reinforced the importance of infection control more effectively than the hundreds of classroom-based sessions I have sat through in my career.

The Anatomy of EBL

The time-bound nature of EBL may be contributing to the energy and enthusiasm of their participants.  The lead-up period is not only for preparation, but online and broadcast advertising creates anticipation and encourages recruitment.  During the event, technologies are used to share resources and host real-time conversations that would not be possible face-to-face.  EBL is impressive when there is massive engagement and equality of participation.  Only readily accessible web 2.0 technologies can really deliver this.  It is even exploited in events which incorporate citizen science, such as the BBC’s Stargazing Live.  Even after the event has closed, its effects continue through the network created during event-related social interactions.

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A Word (or two) of Caution

The benefits of EBL to isolated and busy professional learners are clear – provided, of course, they can access the learning in the first place.  The digital divide exists within organisations as well as between economies.  We also need to be clear about the purpose of the event and not allow it to be hijacked as a vehicle for propaganda.  An effective EBL needs a lot of planning and preparation – do not be beguiled by the time limitation of the event itself.  Like all mass participation events, EBL can be exciting and creative.  It can also seem messy and chaotic to some people.  And too many, in close succession, could be exhausting.  My experience from World Hospice and Palliative Care Day was all of the above – and in a 36-hour day to accommodate all time zones.

My advice for anyone wanting to join an EBL is that you get out what you put in.  The choice is yours.  Meet other people, share and learn from them, make new friend, try new things…but most of all, enjoy the experience.

Event Based Learning: Why you should follow the hashtag

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