Social Network Sites: Facebook For Education?

Social Network Sites: Facebook For Education?
Summary: Social network sites, also referred to as social media sites, such as Facebook, Ning, and SuperClubsPLUS, attract young people today. Because of the familiarity with secondary students, ease of use, and ease of access, social network sites could be incorporated seamlessly into the online learning environment (OLE). By doing so, they would extend learning to a dynamic, changing, and shared experience beyond the boundaries of the classroom. They would actively engage students, as many already monitor their own online presence for new activity or comments often.

Social Network Sites Pedagogical Uses

Social network sites can be used for learning in Bloom's Taxonomy stages of: remembering when locating, ‘liking’, or recognizing; understanding when subscribing or tagging; and evaluating when justifying a decision, collaborating or networking via the site (Churches, 2009).

An advantage of social network sites as a research-based pedagogical technique (RPT) is that teachers can easily incorporate and share multimedia through them, thereby providing a rich content experience that accommodates learning styles and preferences. Social network sites also provide a collaborative learning environment that is not bound by time constrictions, allow for informal learning opportunities to increase, and support active knowledge construction through interaction with experts as well as peers. As Casey and Evans pointed out, “[students’] motivations, interests, attention, and involvement may all be strongly affected by their relationships with their peers” (p. 3).

By incorporating social network sites, teachers cannot only capitalize on skills that students already use outside of the school atmosphere, but also on their interests and habits.

Supporting Research

Ng’ambi (2013) drew upon data collected as a part of a larger study in order to evaluate transformative learning and teaching practices by looking at responses from 262 educators across 22 public higher education institutions in South Africa where 68% used social network sites for sharing resources. The results showed: students learned from one another; students engaged with experts from the professional community; student thinking and learning was extended beyond class time; communication between students and professionals was facilitated; and a learning community was built.

Casey and Evans (2011) noted that social network sites enable students to interact with one another, build a sense of community, develop content, as well as require students to be active in their own learning through participating, thinking, and contributing. They studied 900 public high school students between the age of 13 and 16 with the use of an online social network site Ning as a learning environment for one semester. The study showed the use of a social network site resulted in:

  • great range of opportunities for students to form own groups;
  • students to be explorers, designers, and publishers;
  • greater support of peers, self-reflection, and both peer- and self-assessment;
  • students draw upon relevant, integrated knowledge;
  • use of skills that many had honed outside of the classroom;
  • flexibility to read and write comments, ask questions, and seek clarification;
  • student enjoyment of creating new profiles, avatars, and friend requests;
  • teaching and learning occurring informally and formally;
  • shared examples of student work aided others;
  • increased creativity and use of multimedia;
  • more opportunities to make decisions;
  • increased student control of learning;
  • generating new knowledge;
  • improved critiquing abilities;
  • increased interaction with peers at a personal level;
  • teaching to peers or younger students;
  • increased connectedness; and
  • added depth and excitement to the learning process.

Are Teachers Using Facebook?

Since research supported the use of social network sites as an online learning tool to implement RPT in OLE, an online survey was created to see if one midwest state was actually using it. The survey was done at the end of 2014 and sought to gain feedback from online secondary teachers regarding their views on the effectiveness of social media sites for RPT implementation and its impact on student participation, academic achievement, and satisfaction in OLE. A total of 102 teachers out of the 189 from 14 schools participated.


The vast majority of participants (91.5%) had never tried social network sites.

But if it’s been proven in research to be effective, why aren’t they?

Not seeing the potential of an online learning tool was the most frequent identified barrier. Lack of course time to implement the tool was second and administration did not support the use of this technology tool was third. In the open answer portion, participants gave such reasons as too time consuming to patrol and concern of student exposure to non-related content to explain their lack of use of social network sites in their OLE courses.

However, this fails to address the fact that many young people today already use social network sites and employing them into OLE could capitalize on students’ preexisting habits and skills. For instance, many already monitor their online presence for new activity or comments often, so creating a class Facebook could actively engage students, share content, interact, and build a sense of community (Casey & Evans, 2011). In addition, Ng’ambi (2013) showed that incorporating a social media site into education transformed the teaching and learning process, as well as extended student engagement in regards to time and individuals as it reached outside the class to include professionals.

The extremely low usage found in this study seems to contradict the RPT applications of social network sites, as teachers tend to employ RPT that they deem valuable.

What do you think?

Do you think Facebook or Ning could be used effectively in OLE?

How and Why?