Opportunities and limits of blogs as a learning environment
From Informal Science Education Evidence Wiki
For attentive, motivated, and knowledgeable audiences, science-related blogs likely enhance learning, build relationships with users, and visibility for a project or initiative. Several strategies can also facilitate incidental exposure to science content among users who would normally not seek it out. However, blogs face many barriers in reaching younger audiences and unmotivated audiences, requiring dedicated resources, informed strategies, and staff to be effective.
Blogs and integrated knowledge
Blogs can feature high levels of user interactivity, hyperlinking, a combination of text, graphics, video, and audio, and allow users to shift across posts and to other pages in a non-linear fashion. Internet users under the age of 30 have come to expect online content to feature these types of multi-media, social, and participatory features, and science-related blogs are well suited to deliver (Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2010).
Research suggests that interactive and hyperlinking features are especially useful for promoting integrated knowledge and understanding. Experiments find that print media are better at fostering factual recall of discrete factors or information, but the interactive, hyperlinked environment is better at promoting learning that connects discrete information into a more comprehensive understanding of a complex topic (Eveland, 2003).
Barriers to attracting diverse audiences
Other barriers, however, may limit learning. Blogs more so than print content and online news are subject to higher levels of scanning with average time spent on a blog post ranging from a few seconds to less than a minute. As users multi-task, this behavior further limits retention and recall of information.
Teens and those under the age of 30 have shifted away from blogging and blog reading to preferring status updating, sharing and commenting on content via Facebook and Twitter (Pew Project on Internet and Public Life, 2010). An institutional or project Facebook page can serve the same types of function as a blog, but because Facebook is not searchable via Google, Facebook pages are not likely to gain the same type of incidental traffic as a blog.
The abundance of media choices available to audiences also likely limits the impact of a blog, with science enthusiasts and those deeply interested in a topic the most likely to seek out blog-related content. The tendency for science blog writers to tailor their content to the already informed, and to mix science discussion with political and religious topics likely further reinforces this selectivity (Kouper, 2010).
Twitter and Facebook also serve as additional attention barriers. As a function of educational background and profession, individuals who have little interest in science are likely to have a majority of friends with similarly limited interests. Conversely, those with strong interest in science are likely to have friends with similar levels of attention and enthusiasm. Across these two groups, social network effects create reinforcing spirals of non-attention and engagement respectively. However, one opinion-leader within a users’ social network who is status updating and recommending science-related blog content may be able facilitate incidental traffic among their otherwise inattentive network, suggesting the importance of opinion-leader identification, recruitment, and cultivation. These individuals might be thought of as online science ambassadors and connectors (Nisbet & Kotcher, 2009; Scheufele & Nisbet, 2012).
Strategies for attracting more diverse audiences
Another strategy for diversifying traffic is to maintain a blog that is part of a larger online network, hub, or platform. Discover magazine, PLos, scienceblogs.com, and Nature host science-specific communities. Because of their focus, however, an increase in user traffic is likely to be comprised of mainly science enthusiast. A more productive strategy would be to maintain a blog as part of a more diversified content hub such as a site devoted to public affairs generally, sports, culture, religion, women or ethnic concerns etc.
In addition, a science-related blog that focuses on topics of local or regional interest featuring regular updated content is likely to generate stronger reader ties than nationally or internationally focused blogs. Most communities and regions in the U.S. lack strong sources of locally focused science, environmental, or medical news. Online sources in the form of blogs and other content can be a useful and popular resource. These blogs will also attract users as sources of information about science-related events, entertainment, or educational activities. Surveys find that the Internet in most communities is the preferred source of information related to jobs, education, and housing, more so than either newspapers or local TV news (Pew 2011).
Eveland, W. P., Jr. (2003). A mix of attributes approach to the study of media effects and new communication technologies. Journal of Communication, 53(3), 395-410. Retrieved from http://numerons.in/files/documents/4A-%E2%80%9CMix-of-Attributes%E2%80%9D-Approach.pdf
Kouper, I. (2010). Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities. Journal of Science Communication. Retrieved from http://jcom.sissa.it/archive/09/01/Jcom0901(2010)A02/Jcom0901(2010)A02.pdf
Nisbet, M.C. & Kotcher, J. (2009). A Two Step Flow of Influence? Opinion-Leader Campaigns on Climate Change. Science Communication, 30, 328-354. Retrieved from http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/students/envs_4100/nisbet_2009.pdf
Pew Project on the Internet and Public Life (2010). Social Media and Young Adults. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults/Summary-of-Findings.aspx
Pew Project on the Internet and Public Life (2011). How People Learn about their Local Community. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Local-news/Part-1/Overview.aspx
Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism (2010). Understanding the Participatory News Consumer. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Online-News.aspx
Scheufele, D.A & Nisbet, M.C. (2012). Online News and the Demise of Political Disagreement. Communication Yearbook 34. Retrieved from http://bigthink.com/ideas/41613?page=all