I’ve written a couple of posts about my recent research and have been using my blog to muse over some continued thoughts about how our careers are shaped by social media. Although my project focused on online discussion forums (ODFs) there are theories I find particularly influential and complimentary in accounting for how our careers can be impacted and shaped as we switch between our offline/online activities and our use of social media platforms.
Firstly, I drew extensively on Laws iconic (2009; 2010) theory of community interaction and career learning (sensing, sifting, focusing and understanding) and its value for contemporary careers work. It helped me shape a critical perspective to explore the influence and social impact of ODFs on career learning and development. This is because the interaction between the individual and the social groups we inhabit invariably influences the course of our life in terms of expectations, support, decisions and the opportunities this creates. Forums and of course other social media platforms can be a space for finding out and figuring out content and thoughts useful for our career. This is in no small part to the space forums provide to both create stories and build relationships.
Secondly, I was drawn to the work of Brown (2000) and how he described a learning ecology on the web as benefiting from the cross pollination of ideas and knowledge being carried back and forth (I do like that physical comparison) between the overlapping local and virtual communities that we are part of. It’s the idea that there is an important interface between our offline and online activities at constant influence with each other. Brown alludes to this boundary and its fluidity in how each of us can be consumer and producer (in digital parlance we now frequently call this ‘content’). The concept of nodes, network, access and relationship building sit within a connectivist theory of how knowledge is distributed, although ahead of his time Brown refers to this as distributed intelligence where the community is the expert. In an age of information abundance this is increasingly important.
Finally, Brown also describes an ecology as an open system as having the characteristics of being open, complex, adaptive, dynamic, interdependent, diverse, fragile and partially self-organising. There’s a familiar chime here to Pryor & Bright’s (2011) Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) where individuals are characterised as complex systems subject to the influence of complex influences and chance events. This interaction of complex entitities leads me to the general feeling (I could be wrong) that in practice there is a trend to instrumentalise and underestimate how our career can be impacted within the offline/online spaces we occupy, especially the often unintended causality between the two. For example, my research highlighted the impact on career identity through interaction in career focused online forums. What we don’t know is how much of career identity formation can be attributed to discursive construction versus social learning? Although in a wider sense there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by where a social media faux pas hasn’t done some kind of irreparable damage to someones career.
Where I see most careers support currently pitched is the internet as a benevolent tool for our careers where mastery and an element of control is required. I found an antidote and fresh perspective offered by Staunton (2019) who considered both the instrumentalist and critical perspectives in how the digital networks can impact upon our career and which challenges the neutrality of social media e.g. surveillance and loss of privacy.
I can’t help feeling that as our online activity becomes more prevalent and widespread it increasingly feels more complex, more difficult to separate and the impact more unpredictable. Undoubtably the internet and its communities can be a powerful ally but a more critical mindset may be more valuable than an immediate set of digital skills and social media accounts.
Brown, J. S. (2000) Growing Up: Digital: How the Web Changes Work,
Education, and the Ways People Learn, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 32:2, 11-20, DOI: 10.1080/00091380009601719
Fowkes, L. (2019) Bumping online discussion forums in a social media age. Prospects Luminate. https://luminate.prospects.ac.uk/the-impact-of-career-focused-online-forums
Law, B. (2009) Community-interaction and its importance for contemporary careers-work. [Online]. Available at http://www.hihohiho.com/memory/cafcit.pdf (Accessed 9 Dec 2018).
Law, B. (2010) Career learning theory the original article. [Online]. Available at https://www.hihohiho.com/newthinking/crlrnoriginal.pdf (Accessed 9 Dec 2018).
Pryor, R. & Bright, J. (2011) The Chaos Theory of Careers. Routledge, New York.
Staunton, T (2019) Icarus, Grannies, Black Holes and the death of
privacy: exploring the use of digital networks for career enactment, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2019.1698007