Bringing social media into the classroom

Elliot Gowans, VP at D2L, talks about the pros of incorporating social media into the learning process

Social media is now many people’s number one choice when it comes to finding out the latest news and staying in touch with friends and contacts. As the rise in mobile communication drives this shift, the education industry is increasingly embracing these technological advances. Indeed, instructors that use learning management systems to develop mobile-friendly courses that integrate with social media stand to better connect and engage with students.

While some may have initially considered social media unfit for the classroom, educational institutions are now exploring whether it might actually enhance the learning experience. In one such study by the University of Glasgow 68 per cent of students thought it would. The study suggested that social media could increase student motivation and engagement with course material, increase student-to-student collaboration, and enhance interaction between students and lecturers. It also made the interesting point that using social media provides students with useful skills for employability.

Social media is integral to the way people communicate and interact

The way we consume information evolves all the time, and technology creates ever more engaging ways of sharing information. Facebook, now with 1.86 billion monthly active users, initially led the shift toward social media but has been swiftly joined by a wide range of other platforms. These have been readily adopted, in particular by younger generations, as they are familiar (and comfortable) with digital communications and real-time information sharing. 

This has transformed the way that whole generations live, work and learn. Education in turn needs to learn from the qualities that make social media so compelling – it is instant, engaging, visual and personal. By integrating these qualities into course content and delivery, learning can aim to meet millennials’ expectations of on-demand and always-on.

Educational institutions on the whole make good use of social media marketing to sell courses and attract students, but many stop short of incorporating it into their course delivery.    

There were concerns that social media could only be a distraction from learning. Over time, these have begun to give way to the realisation that, when incorporated in a managed way, the advantages of social media can benefit learning. It’s about finding the right balance through the successful use of technology.

Educational institutions on the whole make good use of social media marketing to sell courses and attract students, but many stop short of incorporating it into their course delivery.  

Social media extends the reach and appeal of course content

Through tools that students find familiar and engaging, educational experiences can be richer. Integrating mobile-friendly, digital educational content with social media platforms builds the learning experience around the student. It is personalised, reaches every learner, and fosters imagination, creativity, and the development of skills needed by tomorrow’s workforce.

Courses can be designed to include elements that students identify with from their use of social media, such as newsfeeds, quizzes, video content, and discussion groups for collaboration and sharing. These tools can help instructors connect and engage with the social-driven learners of today.

Learning management systems (LMS) support lecturers in tailoring their course content and delivery to their students’ needs. This includes visual, mobile-friendly design support. By integrating with social media services, LMSs extend the reach and appeal of courses, enabling lecturers to push content automatically to apps such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  

With the majority of students now owning a smartphone, and social media usage accounting for a large proportion of online smartphone activity, this is a communication channel that lecturers simply can’t afford to overlook. That said, the challenge comes in selecting the frequency and volume of information to share – too much and institutions risk ‘spamming’ their students’ feeds; too little and they may fail to engage them.  

A positive addition to the way we learn

By looking at shifting behavioural patterns, educators can learn from changes in the way we communicate to introduce technologies that will help keep students engaged in their studies.

Social media can be a positive addition to learning tools, and its place as a communications channel is so undisputed that to dismiss it would be to miss an opportunity. A social learning experience can become a successful way of reaching all learners effectively.

Working with the right tools, educators can harness the full power of social media to interact with all students through visually appealing, compelling content delivered in an engaging way. 

Elliot Gowans is VP EMEA at D2L