Social Media and Adult Learning

Definitions
Adult Learners. Non-traditional students pursuing post-secondary study or training, but who do not meet the definition of a “traditional” college student.

Social Media (SM).  A range of online tools and web based applications that enable online social interaction and the creation and sharing of user generated content. SM enables people to connect and/or collaborate through computer-facilitated communication and creation.

Best Educational Use
Once learning management systems (LMS) were introduced in the post-secondary environment,  instructors began to introduce online collaborative SM tools. SM applications can be optimally used to support learning by promoting online interaction and communication. They provide:

  • free or low cost profile space,
  • facilities for uploading content such as hyperlinks, videos, photos, etc.
  • messaging options, and
  • the ability to make connections with peers and enhance collaborative opportunities.

SM applications are best used to support learning by engaging students in informal learning opportunities.

Learning Outcomes Supported
1.   New technologies can foster communication, engagement and self-direction in learners.

2.  The development of media and information literacy skills are necessary outcomes with the utilization of SM for educational purposes.

Learner Needs
Positive Aspects. One of the strongest advantages of incorporating SM applications in the learning environment is the opportunity they provide to support student learning. They enable students to:

  • Communicate with learners they may not otherwise be able to;
  • Share ideas and develop a large repository of information created by a group of students;
  • Communicate directly and immediately with peers;
  • Engage in informal learning by posting or answering questions or soliciting help;
  • Develop critical and reflexive thinking skills and media and information literacy skills;
  • Provide and receive peer feedback;
  • Maintain relationships with larger groups of peers online than in a face-to-face setting.

Negative Effects. While SM applications do provide new opportunities, they can also create challenges for many learners.  Challenges in an adult learning context include:

  • The transition to a digital classroom may be difficult for non-natives of technology; adult learners may not be technologically savvy enough to use these sites;
  • Community-building on SM sites may extend beyond the instructor’s control and push the limits of quality and credibility;
  • SM applications can be time consuming and produce compulsive tendencies to check in and respond;
  • If time-consuming, SM applications reduce learning/teaching efficiencies.

References:
Adult Learners and Their Use of Social Networking Sites ,Yuanqiong (Kathy) Wang and Jessica Arfaa (2013). Towson University, Dept. of Computer & Information Sciences, Towson, MD 21252.

Vilhelmina Vaičiūnienė and Viktorija Mažeikienė (2012) Social Media in Adult Education: Insights Gained from Grundtvig Learning Partnership Project “Institutional Strategies Targeting the Uptake of Social Networking in Adult Education (ISTUS)”, Technologijos Social Technologies 2012, , 2(2), p. 473–482.