This is a description of social bookmarking and how it might play within a learning environment. If you are interested in this topic please give me feedback. It feels like I am only scratching the surface here.
Social Bookmarking for Learning
One component of the new web paradigm is social bookmarking. Social bookmarking is the process of moving your "favorites" or "bookmarks" (links to web sites you visit on the web) to a web-based service like del.icio.us, magnolia, or Yahoo or Google. These services allow you to capture these links or (URLs) to their service and provide you with settings to keep the link private or to share it with others (make it public). This is an immediate improvement from the traditional way of storing these links locally on your computer. I remember trying to teach many groups on how to export their favorites from Internet Explorer so they could use them on another computer. It was often challenging.
However, by adding these links to a web-based service you are able to do other interesting things around the link, including the ability to "tag" it. Tagging a link is the equivalent of associating a keyword to the link. This allows you and others (if it is public) to search topics or memes that you deem important as opposed to searching terms that are in the title of the link. Think about http//wwww.google.com. To find this link you would have to look for term "google", but if you tagged it with "search" then by searching the term "search" which is really searching for a concept, you would find the link to Google.
By tagging the links the learner begins to create a network of content that can be later accessed and searched. My experience is that once the learner becomes very repetitive of the process of saving a bookmark (and there are many ways to physically do this) the structure of the content management system starts to form itself. This is a critical distinction because the new user of the service doesn't have to establish any categorization scheme up front. This user generated scheme is referred to as a taxonomy. The network and structure emerges through use.
How does this support your learning?
While saving bookmarks is on the surface an administrative task, there seems to be a couple of other cognitive things that play into the act of capturing a resource (I use the term resource to refer to the content that is represented by the link.) from the web. First, it is a very constructive thing to do. You the learner are making a judgement call about the resource. You have decided that this page is worth looking at again or possibly worth sharing with others. Second, if you tag the resource then you are making a qualitative judgement about the resource. In a way, you are making a very short summary of the resource and categorizing the resource within your overall content management system. (You may not have even been aware that you had a content management system, but if you surf the web then you probably have one.)
It has been awhile since I have dug into the research but saving and tagging resources would seem to be a very strong metacognitive strategy because you are manually building a network of content. You begin to have to think about how you think about things. You need to consider how you want a resource to relate to other resources within your network and within the greater network that is the web. These distinctions become very important for the ability to recall the resources.
I found this quote: Metacognitive strategies positively impact students who have learning problems because they provide these students an efficient way to acquire, store, and express information and skills (Mercer & Mercer, 1993). This is basically what you are doing when you bookmark a resource. right?
Another observation about social bookmarking and cognition, in the many roles that I have played in my career teacher/project manager/leader, is that I am always looking for better ways to understand my students or peers, social bookmarking has given me an incredible insight into those that our in my network. An insight that I just don't think I would have otherwise. If someone you know is an active del.icio.us user then you can actually follow the things that they are thinking about and researching and capturing. Interesting this has the wonderful effect of allowing you to consider their topics and associations and even adopt them as your own. This also tells you that your associates are actively engaged in the learning process. It has been my experience that those who are active bookmarkers are typically engaged people in other aspects of life.
Another thing that social bookmarking is helping us do is manage cognitive load. The research I found after a quick google of the concept seems to be at the instructional level and bookmarking to me seems at a higher administrative and conceptual level, but it is interesting to consider. This will require a much deeper examination. I bookmarked the site.:)
The Scope of the Resource
While I have no scientific evidence that social bookmarking is a learning strategy that can enhance learning, it seems that it would have to provide some, probably small, benefit to reinforcing concepts and ideas. One issue to consider is that the scope of the resource is so dramatically different that the tagging and association of the content to the network is going to be unique to the resource itself. This is similar to the learning object issue going on in the elearning industry. The web page marked by the link could be, as in the case of Second Life, a completely different world, or it could be a definition on dictionary.com.
Leveraging the Network for Learning
I think that social bookmarking services could really have a strong impact on learning if the learners would go back and leverage the network of resources more often. Maybe I am in the minority, but I don't spend a lot of time going back to the network to search for the resources as a complete network. I usually go back just to look for a specific resource. This is probably a limiting factor for learning. We need to leverage the frameworks of the network. I way that this might improve is better leverage many of the visualization and integration tools that have emerged around social bookmarking services.
Still another way to leverage the network of resources that you create when bookmarking resources is to add even more metadata to the resource. Allowing ratings, discussion, and more descriptive information to the resource we continue to add value to the content as a learning tool. Associating the resource with a goal can enable ratings to the value of the resource to achieve the goal. Metadata that describes the resource as an instructional resource could provide the ability to search for tutorials or educational activities. However, these types of extensions go beyond the needs of the typical "user" and really focus in on the "learner" and these services will come from value added services.
The future of Social Bookmarking
In my opinion we are just at the very beginning of social bookmarking services. Interestingly the new services and functionality may come from outside of the primary service, but that's a technology discussion for another day. For these services to have a strong impact on knowledge management and ultimately learning, we need to be able to easily associate large chunks or sections of our resource network to projects, goals, and ideas. The bookmarking services have to really improve their performance, meaning they need to be constantly looking for ways to associate themselves back to our personal tasks and knowledge frameworks or at least providing us the opportunity to do so. We need to be able to integrate this resource network into every web service that we use.
Finally, social bookmarking and tagging provides learners the opportunity to construct an information network of learning resources providing some small opportunity to think about the resource and how it would fit within the network. This network allows learners to store, access, and search information and hopefully soon, additional services will will support a tighter integration of the network with all the activities that we engage in on the web.