How Can Social Tools Enhance Online Learning?

Mar 27, 2013
  |  by Jennifer Cook

Social media has been a mixed bag for educators alike. And while the dream is that we can harness the always-connected nature of social networks to bring education into the 21st Century, the technology is still taking time to mature, and legacy learning institutions are just now starting to really get up to speed in online education in general.

Challenges of Incorporating Social and Higher Ed

The interconnectedness that social media brings is often discussed as a challenge to be handled in K-12 education, something that enables unsupervised interaction between students and faculty outside the classroom. More than one scandal has surfaced that makes parents and administrators take pause. But I don’t think those same concerns necessarily translate to post-secondary education.

The big challenge, as I see it, is mostly keeping your professional and personal social media use separate. I think this is an issue students are still unaware of, even if their teachers are. Students should also be aware that college admissions boards and (especially) employers will be scouring their social media activity to get a better picture of what kind of student/employee they will be. (Tread carefully with what kind of pics you post; they speak louder than words.)

Integrating Social Communities with Successful Learning

Online discussions about class on student-accessible discussion boards and forums, where classmates can share tips on individual assignments, collaborate on group projects, give feedback on tests and quizzes and connect for offline study sessions. When classroom time is limited, especially in an MBA course that’s completely online, social interaction can be a lifeline for students.

Posting supplementary material to help students tackle a topic from multiple angles is a brilliant use of social by educators. Record material from your online lectures and make them available online, either through an online learning dashboard or video-sharing sites like YouTube or Vimeo (Khan Academy videos, for example). Incorporate other videos on similar topics into playlists that will help students digest key concepts. Let students add their own videos to crowd-source this kind of curation.

Student Expectations of Socially Geared Online Classes

Students are always connected, so they expect teachers to be as well. That can put a lot of demands on teachers who are interacting with hundreds of students. Students also want multimedia learning resources and the ability to share, instantly, anything they find useful with classmates and teachers. The web has a wealth of these, but you have to be careful of copyright issues.

Above all, students expect the online learning technology they’re forced to use for their courses to actually work. I remember several years ago, when most dashboards used by universities and colleges were clunky, slow and unhelpful. There are still online solutions used by some enhanced textbook publishers that are unreliable and painfully slow, but the industry as a whole is catching up, and competition is forcing everyone to make the investments necessary to deliver a robust online education infrastructure for students.


Author bio: Jennifer Cook writes about online education, learning trends and student life for Strayer.edu. She loves it when teachers connect with students online, and she’s scrubbed her social profiles clean, just in case Big Brother is watching.

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