Advanced Search

The Educational Use of Social Media in the Classroom

By McGraw-Hill Education 2 years agoNo Comments
Home  /  Course Design  /  The Educational Use of Social Media in the Classroom

It seems that once in a while, it strikes us how much our world has changed in the past ten to fifteen years. We might notice that while we are at an event, everyone is on their phone during intermission. Or we might realize that all our pictures of our children are on our phone. Or when we walk into the classroom, all of the students are on their phones.

The final experience may explain why instructors are working to incorporate social media into their classrooms for educational purposes. The drive may not be merely to integrate popular technology, but to capture and keep the students’ attention.

Paul A. Tess recognized that instructors are incorporating social media into their higher education classrooms, and wanted to understand the research about the impact of social media on education. He conducted a literature review and shares his findings in, “The Role of Social Media in Higher Education Classes (Real and Virtual).”


Social Media

First, Tess attempts to define social media. He explains that some researchers include all of Web 2.0 in their definition, while others only include social network sites like Facebook and Twitter. Tess focuses the review on studies that deal with social networking sites (SNS).

Tess describes the social networking sites and their prevalence. His data ranges from 2007-2011. Pew Research data from 2014, which focused on U.S. citizens, shows that 71% of internet users are on Facebook, and of those 87% are in the 18-29 age bracket, which includes traditional-aged college students. Twenty-three percent of internet users are on Twitter, and 37% are 18-29. Pew Research reports that 28% of internet users are on LinkedIn, with 23% in the 18-29 age bracket. The other important number to consider is that 70% of Facebook users are on daily. It has reached an impressive saturation both in number of people and in time. And statistics show college-age users are often the highest use demographic.


The Social Media Studies Used in the Review

Before studies can be conducted, Tess notes that instructors and researchers need to consider theoretical frameworks and practical uses for social media in higher education.

A researcher, Neil Selwyn, proposes three motivating concepts for incorporating social media in the classroom. The first is the changing nature of the student, second, the changing relationship to knowledge consumption and construction, and third, the emergence of “user-driven” education.

Social constructivism and situated learning, two educational theories, provide a framework that can be applied to incorporating social media in higher education. Social constructivism focuses on learning through dialogue and shared activity. Social networks can be used as the venue for dialogue and activity, and can increase student participation. Situated learning also emphasizes that learning requires participation. Social networks can be used to create the “community of practice.”

A philosophical approach notes that social media in the classroom can lead students to create knowledge in diverse networks because they are connected to individuals and communities far outside of the classroom.

In addition to the positive frameworks, Tess includes some cautions. Although social media seems like a tool that will encourage participation, some researchers suggest that it doesn’t help foster debate and disagreement. Instead, discussions seem to remain at a surface level. In addition, they caution against using a tool for an unsuitable task. Social networks are specifically designed for a set of tasks, but education is not one of them.

After noting these frameworks and cautions, Tess turns to reporting on the studies that have been conducted on social media in the classroom.

Several studies focused on specific fields, including using social media with future healthcare providers and future teachers.

Other studies focused on the impact of social media on general undergraduate courses. These studies looked at using social media as a communication tool, how social media impacts student achievement, and faculty perceptions. Studies also considered using social media as a course management system.

Finally, studies examined specific social networks, including Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, and their impact on education.

Using Social Media in the Classroom

Pros and Cons of Social Media in the Classroom

All these studies can provide us with information and show us the positive and negative impacts of social media in the higher education classroom.


  1. Communication

Many studies focused on the communication abilities of social media and found positive aspects to incorporating social media for this purpose. One study found social media makes more communication possible with classmates both in and out of the classroom. Facebook was also studied as a replacement to communicating through a learning management system and researchers found it was successful as just a communication tool, possibly because of the ease of access. Researchers who focused their studies on Twitter found that it improved communication between instructors and students, and provided a venue for prompt feedback.

  1. Community of Learners

As the theoretical frameworks suggest, researchers did find that one of the benefits of social media is creating a community of learners. One study found that a Facebook-based community of learners can help students overcome weak study skills and an over-reliance on the instructor. In the healthcare studies, students used social media to create a community of practice and found it effective in fostering collegial relationships.

  1. Active Learning

Social media was found to have a positive impact on active learning. Studies that focused specifically on blogs found that students are actively learning when they write blogs and that blogs support self-expression and self-reflection. Students involved in a class where a blog was assigned as a cooperative activity didn’t feel pressured from their peers when sharing their work which led them to share more. Researchers that focused on Twitter found that it promoted active learning.

  1. Content Management Systems and Alternative Class Styles

Facebook and Twitter were studied as content management systems and were viewed as successful. Their main advantage is ease of access. In Facebook-specific studies, one researcher found that it was the ideal site for a blended learning environment.

  1. Second Language Learners

Facebook and Twitter also helped students learning English as a second language. Students posted in English which began a dialogue with English-speakers and the conversations improved their skills.

  1. Behavioral Data

Finally, social media provides a rich source of behavioral data. Instructors and researchers can actually see exactly what students are doing and analyze it.


  1. Students

Studies found that students don’t use social media for educational purposes. Surveys of students show that students prefer to keep their social (media) life separate from their educational life.

Time spent on social media can have a negative relationship on GPA, academic performance, and student achievement. Researchers suggest that the negative correlations could be caused by multitasking. It is important to note that other studies have found mixed results rather than a clear negative relationship.

In the specific studies of Facebook, only half of students felt it assisted their learning when incorporated in the classroom. The researchers suggest this was caused by the instructor’s inconsistency in using it.

  1. Instructors

Only 24% of instructors incorporate social media in class, and only 34% think it is a useful tool for improving student satisfaction. Instructors can be inconsistent in their use of social media in the classroom.

Surveys of instructors show that instructors need more training and assistance to fully incorporate social media into their curricular activities.


Future Studies

As Tess discusses in his literature review, the review is limited by the amount of research on social media in higher education to this point. As mentioned above, the three studies on Facebook and GPA show mixed results, with one clearly negative and the others mixed. The research at this point is still limited, and in order to have a full understanding, there needs to be more research.

Tess explains that there are several themes in the research being conducted on the impact of social media on education. The first theme deals with social media itself. The questions that drive this theme are about the function and use of social media, how it impacts instructional design, and how can it be effectively integrated into the classroom.

The second theme is about social media as a tool for connection. The questions here are about using online spaces to connect learners, and if social media spaces allow learners to create in important and meaningful ways.

The final theme is about students’ identity formation. Who is the higher education learner, what structure and scaffolding do they need, and does social media in the classroom help them become competent in their field of study?

As there are both benefits and drawbacks of using social media in the classroom, it’s important to consider your course and situation before integrating it into your class. If you’re thinking of using social media in your higher education teachings, make sure you come up with a solid plan that you can easily stick to before implementing.

  Course Design, Higher Education, Social Media
this post was shared 0 times