Social Media And eLearning: How To Improve Formal Learning With Social Media
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Ways To Improve Formal Learning With Social Media

While many of us might think that social media started with the burst of Facebook on the internet stage, that’s not entirely true. In fact, the earliest incarnation of social media (primarily in a learning context) was launched online in 1973 by David R. Woolley. It was appropriately named PLATO, for Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations.

Social Media – Not Α New Phenomena

Since then, there have been a number of social platforms that have flourished, some of which have faded away, and some are still surviving and thriving today, such as:

  • MSN Messenger
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • MySpace
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • SnapChat
  • …and a slew of others!

While most of these platforms have been used purely for social interactions, they possess the building blocks that can easily be leveraged for formal learning applications.

How Social Media Makes Good Teaching Aids

As learning content developers and Instructional Designers, we often think of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) as the ideal teaching and knowledge sharing tool. However, social media platforms offer features and functionality that can be leveraged to supplement and complement the use of a traditional LMS:

  1. They are widely available to anyone with an internet connection.
  2. They are "open", which makes them more broadly accessible.
  3. They are "social" by definition, unlike LMSs that are more hierarchical and "close-looped".
  4. Like many front-line LMS tools, social media platforms support multi-media. However, unlike LMS, the "reach" of social media goes beyond the curated content available on formal teaching networks.
  5. While many proprietary (conventional) LMS networks are locked behind firewalls and other barriers, most social media networks are easily accessible. Learners, therefore, more readily gravitate towards these types of communities.

Because of all of these qualities, social media can make a powerful ally in furthering the goals of formal learning. However, Instructional Designers and eLearning course developers must "structure" learning on social media so that learners do not stray away from what the course sponsor is attempting to accomplish.

Prerequisites For Success

Given how powerful the use of social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be in facilitating the dissemination and absorption of new and trending content, there is an amazing opportunity for distance-learning content creators and Instructional Designers to integrate them into eLearning environments. However, you need to have a comprehensive strategy to successfully leverage social media into your courses.

7 Key Pillars A Good Social Media Learning/Teaching Strategy Should Incorporate

1. Lay Down The Law

The very first thing that you need to do is to lay out what is and isn’t acceptable behavior on your social media platform. For instance, if you are afraid that political affiliation may derail your teaching, perhaps you should state up-front that politics should not be discussed on the network.

2. Familiarity

The strategy must account for the fact that not every eLearner will likely be social media-savvy. Therefore, appropriate prerequisite content must be developed to make such participants "social media-ready".

3. Ease Of Access

The objective of using social media in an eLearning context is to make it easier for learners to get to the learning content they are looking for quickly and effectively. To achieve this end, your content must be classified and categorized in a way that makes it seamless (within the social media platform/forum you are using) to locate. For instance, if Twitter is your social platform of choice, the use of appropriate "#tags" (Twitter Hashtags) will instinctively direct learners towards related content.

4. Force The Issue

Once learners are familiar with how to access and locate content, the strategy must address making the use of social media a "second nature". By posting key instructional content, or critical learning materials exclusively on social platforms (instead of also on the Learning Management System), you’ll develop a habit amongst learners to always use the social forum to further their learning objectives.

5. Group Activity

The real power of social media in encouraging formal learning is in facilitating group learning. Studies show that adult learners are more adept at learning from their peers and fellow learners than they are from lecturers and teachers. Therefore, when designing your eLearning content make sure you include ample group activity—most of it mandatory—and set up the appropriate networks (e.g. Facebook Networks or Chat Rooms/Space on MySpace, or other Groups and Feeds) where designated groups can come together.

6. Availability

Of course, when we think of "social learning", we often form an image of groups of learners getting together, and "sharing", or "liking" each others' content. While that practice is certainly at the heart of leveraging these platforms, in order to further the cause of formal learning, instructors and course moderators must be available on the network to moderate the pace and tone of learning. If learning networks are left to self-moderation/governance, learners could easily be misled by a few strong-opinionated learners that usually tend to dominate such forums.

7. Anonymity

There may be times when learners using social platforms aren’t comfortable sharing an idea or a comment publicly. Your social media learning platform must, therefore, cater for private or anonymous interaction. Today, most front-line social media platforms allow for such communication—so be sure to activate those features within your teaching environment.

Taking The Plunge

The major attraction for the use of social media in fostering formal education/learning/teaching is that it offers learners and instructors unrestricted (albeit moderated!) opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and share educational content. What’s more, teaching and learning opportunities are expanded beyond traditional "learning time" or "classroom hours".

However, before you take the plunge and start planning the incorporation of social media into your eLearning design, you must realize that these platforms are just a tool—similar to traditional LMS systems. How effective they are in transferring knowledge to learners, depends on how effectively they are planned, organized, and managed.

If you want to learn more about social media and eLearning, get a copy of the Instructional Design For eLearning: Essential Guide To Creating Successful eLearning Courses book. This book is also available in Spanish.

In addition, you may be interested in the Instructional Design For eLearning course, which also focuses on creating effective, results-oriented training solution.

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