Scott Leslie and his colleague Bruce Langdon have crafted an excellent review of the promise and practice of social software use in both formal and informal learning. The 27 page report is titled Social Software for Learning: What is it,
why use it?
and is published by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education.

The report makes a quite compelling pedagogical case for the use of social software and then details common genre of social tools and their applications in mostly formal education. Given the sponsorship by the Observatory, it is perhaps no surprise that the report focuses considerable attention on adoption and use of these technologies in formal higher education contexts. I especially liked the attention to the institutional issues such as Should we develop our own social software applications or use freely available, commercial and very popular alternatives such as Facebook? If we do build our own apps, should they be behind institutional firewalls and passwords or exposed to the Open Net? And most importantly will students use these services if we build them? While not providing definitive answers to these questions, the report nicely overviews the advantages and disadvantages and provides references and links to some interesting examples.

This report nicely complements and updates the earlier FutureLab’s 2006 report Social Software and Learning . Both reports provide definitions of social software and describe, with examples, the major genre (blogs, wikis, tag apps, etc.) but the Futurelab report focuses more on social software’s impact on informal and lifelong learning, while Leslie and Langdon address the tension and challenges of this potentially disruptive technology to formal educational institutions.

The only major problem with the report is its access restrictions. I realize that some person or organization usually has to pay for any quality production, but guarding this report behind a password, will insure that its readership and impact is very significantly reduced. Fortunately, my University is one of only 5 Canadian universities to subscribe to the UK based Observatory. Thus, I was able to request a password and access the report, but I had to click away my right to copy, email or otherwise open the document to others. A shame…..

If nothing else, do read the free abstract of the report and wait a few months and the report may yet appear in some Googleizable cranny of the Net. Or perhaps wrangle an institutional subscription to the Observatory for this and a number of other interesting reports.