Thursday, March 26, 2015

Three Ways Social Media Enhances Student Learning

"Engaging in various forms of social media is a routine activity that research has shown to benefit children and adolescents by enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills. Social media sites such as Facebook offer multiple daily opportunities for connecting with friends, classmates, and people with shared interests." (The Impact of Social Media On Children, Adolescents, and Families - American Academy of Pediatrics)



With stories of cyber-bullying, harassment, and plagiarism, the risks of engaging in social media are well-publicized. However, research suggests the use of social media impacts learning in many positive ways. Here are three benefits that merit extra attention; 

  1. Increased Student Engagement - Students readily connect with others through social media. Watch what happens when kids need to find a solution to their problem. They reach out to their networks, they "Google" for information, and they watch instructional videos. Billy, my stepson, and a high school freshman, wants to build his own computer so that he can become dominant in the world of Minecraft. Where is he learning how to accomplish this? You guessed it, through experts on social media. He will document the assembly process using photos and video, and share the results on YouTube with his network. Students, like Billy, will use social media tools, often for hours on end, to solve problems, communicate ideas, and create media demonstrating their skills. Purposeful use of social media brings elements of empowerment, enthusiasm, and play into the learning experience. These elements increase engagement, and increase the likelihood of meaningful, deepened, learning.
  2. Collaborative Learning Opportunities - Learning is a simultaneously personal and social endeavor. Social media allows students to differentiate, and individualize their learning. In addition, social media allows learners to connect and communicate with others beyond the walls and bells of the classroom. Problems and projects that seem out of reach become possible and real through collaboration. My friend, Alex, teaches a STEM class where students learn how to build and program robots with the help of mechanical engineers at a nearby manufacturing facility. The production teams use Google Hangouts to video chat, and share design documents that will give students an authentic science and engineering learning experience.
  3. Sharing Learning With Authentic Audiences - Research indicates social media elicits positive learning outcomes, particularly when evidence of learning is shared transparently with social networks. Prompt feedback from an authentic audience provides some explanation to the correlation between student use of social media and academic achievement. Another colleague and friend, Theresa, asks her English students to share their compositional writing through blogs. Depth of understanding, and quality of student writing has increased. Theresa says, "In the past, students would write well enough to satisfy a descriptor in a grading rubric. Now, students have the intrinsic motivation of writing something the eyes of the world will want to read. Students thoroughly enjoy getting comments from readers, many from thousands of miles away!"
To maximize effectiveness, educators would be best served to experience personal and professional learning through social media. Teachers would then be better equipped to explain why learning in digital environment is simultaneously engaging and empowering. Teachers would also be better prepared to support student decision-making, and promote safe communication. Today's students are growing up with social media embedded in their social, emotional, and intellectual development. It's up to educators align social media activity with learning outcomes, along with assessments for learning. Bottom line, learners of all ages stand to benefit by connecting, collaborating, and communicating with other learners through social media.

Are you and your students using social media to enhance learning? Please share your story in the comment section.

Related Reading


The Impact of Social Media... - American Academy of Pediatrics

How Social Media Can & Should Impact Higher Education - Hispanic Outlook, Mark Blankenship

Social Media A Cause: Learning Activity - User Generated Education, Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.





photo credit: iPhone 4 #4 via photopin (license)

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