Social media is not just for fun anymore—it has become a powerful instrument for teaching, enhancing instructor impact in both eLearning and classroom-based environments. In fact 41% of instructors report using social media as a teaching tool.
Why? Social learning theory states that people are most likely to learn when they’re able to interact with other learners. Proponents of this theory believe that tools like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs can help create a more impactful learning environment because they shift the process of learning from instructor-centered to student-centered. In fact, many claim that the availability of small, social groups is a bigger determinant in effective learning than instructor teaching style.
Here are four ideas for integrating social media tools into the learning process:
Have learners create Facebook groups for collaborative projects.
One study found that learners’ familiarity with the Facebook interface made it an excellent tool for teaching. Learners feel comfortable expressing themselves and are more likely to put in more work, since social media tends to blur the line between “learning” and “life.” One way to harness the pedagogical power of Facebook is to let it do what it does best: join people together in groups, where they are free to share information and discuss issues that are important to them. Learners can meet in a designated asynchronous space, hold discussions that are saved in easy-to-access threads, post a variety of media items, and restrict access to the group as needed.
Post content on a class blog.
A blog serves a number of useful functions: serving as a central location for course information and announcements, creating a space for the class to comment, offering a blogroll of relevant information that learners may find relevant or useful, and allowing guest authors to post content. Its sheer simplicity makes blogging a friendlier way of presenting content than most LMS environments. Plus, you can archive content in a searchable way by using tags—making it a snap for learners to get the information they need quickly.
Hold synchronous discussions with Google Hangouts.
Some eLearning instructors find that nothing beats seeing a learner’s face and hearing his or her voice in real time. Luckily, the ubiquity of Google makes Hangouts an easy tool to integrate into online learning. Instructors can bring presence to one-on-one discussions with students, curate small-group meetings, and invite students to collaborate on group projects. Both online and in-person courses can host guest lecturers in virtual chat sessions, opening up the possibilities for experts who can participate. Plus, hangout sessions can be recorded, so anyone who misses doesn’t have to feel like they’re out of the loop.
Use Twitter to host discussions outside the classroom or LMS.
Posting questions on a course Twitter account invites learners to respond both to the instructor and one another in an efficient and asynchronous way. In addition, the social nature of Twitter allows learners to connect with one another in informal ways, facilitating peer-to-peer relationships that are at the heart of effective learning.
Of course, you don’t want to simply jump on the social-media bandwagon because it seems like the most recent trend in eLearning. Like any tool, social networking sites are only going to be useful if they have a meaningful connection to your course and are skillfully integrated into the design. Understanding what benefits your learners might gain, or what instructor effort you might save, before you begin can help you figure out which social media tools, if any, will help nurture the kind of student-centered environment where the best learning tends to happen.