Social Media Versus Higher Education

Many of us will find ourselves changing careers multiple times in our lifetime. Because of this we are now going to have to learn the skills to acquire new knowledge on an almost continuous basis. One way to help accomplish this is with the help of Web 2.0 social media networks.

Most likely you are already taking advantage of these ‘new’ social media networks. Whether you are socializing on Facebook, updating Twitter or just adding a new bookmark to Digg or ZoomIt Canada, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. The next step is to integrate these tools into a new form of learning, or upgrading to Learning 2.0.

Social media tools are providing teachers with so many more opportunities to improve student engagement in learning.  From blogs and wikis, where people are sharing how they approach all sorts of information, to the use of new teaching tools to help teachers to implement social learning in their classrooms.

How Social Learning Is Being Used Today 

Social learning is based on the premise that a better understanding of the subject matter can be had when learning is constructed through conversations and interactions with others. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning. Many colleges and universities are already implementing social learning in their teaching methods.

Below are five examples of how social media is currently being used by teachers today:

1) Collaborative Learning

There are many social media sites out there that deal with collaborative learning. The Hands-On Universe is based at the University of California and is a collaborative learning project in astronomy. Students request observations from professional observatories that will provide them with image-processing software to visualize and analyze their data, encouraging interaction between the students and scientists. The Faulkes Telescope Project provides students in the United Kingdom with free access to two high-powered robotic telescopes, one in Hawaii and the other in Australia, which the students are able to use remotely to carry out their own scientific investigations and supports collaborative projects between students and expert astronomers.

2) Open Educational Resources

One of the earliest examples of the impact of social learning has been the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. OER began in 2001 when MIT provided open access to materials and modules from more than 1,700 of their courses. MIT’s initiative has inspired hundreds of other colleges and universities to join the OER movement and contribute their own open educational resources.

3) Online Video

Online video has been used to present live and taped lectures to students for quite some time now. Michael Wesch, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, has taken online video further by incorporating the social aspect of it. His videos The Machine is Us/ing Us and A Vision of Students Today, which is a video that summarizes how students learn today, can be found on video social networking sites like

4) Virtual Learning

Second Life is an online virtual world that has attracted millions of users and many schools are now using Second Life to teach their courses. Two of the most notable schools to recently host classes in Second Life are the University of Southern Queensland with their Terra Incognita project and Harvard Law School with their course called CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion. The Terra Incognita project not only supports lecture-style teaching, but in true social learning style students also have the ability to break off into smaller groups which instructors can visit or send messages to. Harvard’s CyberOne course was not only offered to students enrolled in Harvard Law School, who were able to attend the class in person, but also non-law school students attending Harvard, and even any member Second Life could review the lectures and other course materials online at no cost.

5) Public Blogs

Many teachers are not only using public blogs to communicate with their students but they are also being used as part of the course curriculum. Walter Carl at Northeastern University uses blogs to teach students about viral marketing. While Toby Bloomberg, of the University of Delaware, has added her own personal blog to the assigned reading list for her class. David Wiley at Utah State University took it a step further by requesting that all student writing was required to be completed on public blogs.

If Learning 2.0 becomes compulsory, new graduates are no longer going to view social media as a challenge when entering the workforce. Rather, the end result is going to be a wide range of young professionals entering the business world with new tricks up their sleeve.