Can Social Media help us learn?

G_2014-04-24_22-48It is my guess that lots of you reading this will have a Facebook or Twitter account. Maybe you have Tumblr, Blogspot, all of the above and more. In fact, as of January 2014, 74% of Internet using adults used social networking sites. What effect is using these sites having on our education?

In 2006, the FKII Josayeongu team described the characteristics of social media as “participation, openness, conversation, community and connectedness”. Many of these characteristics are vital to the learning process and many education programmes have tried to incorporate our increasing social media use into how we learn.

For example, blogging can be a great tool to encourage critical thought about a subject, as can forums like The Student Room. In distance learning, forums, blogs and other social medias can help create a classroom feel that might otherwise be missing. It’s also simply a much more fun and interesting way to engage with a subject that might otherwise seem abstract, and can facilitate a wider range of learning styles.

However, there’s no doubt that social media can also be a distraction and a great procrastination tool. Accounts like ‘Cats of Instagram’ are almost designed to steal hours of productivity away without you even noticing. Perhaps more serious than this is the thought that social media is decreasing our attention span and causing us to be able to retain less information – not helpful if you’re trying to revise! The immediacy of social media can make it hard to motivate ourselves to spend a long time researching and digging deeper into a topic, even though we all know that 140 characters won’t tell you the whole story.

On the flip side, the fact that we now have a wealth of information readily accessible at our fingertips is a huge success of social media, particularly when it comes to its impact on education. Stuck on a difficult question? You can be inundated with help and answers in a matter of minutes, and the diversity of opinion on a topic can help to expand your understanding. You may even be able to ask the experts on a subject for help, something that you definitely couldn’t have done in the past.

As long as you aren’t swapping the books for Twitter articles, using social media to aid your learning can serve to expand your resources and access to information. Remember that everything in moderation can be good, even Candy Crush Saga.

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I am a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham and have written about education for the New Statesman, Huffington Post blog and the F Word, amongst other publications. I took a distance learning A level in Ancient History in my gap year between sixth form and university in order to keep up my learning and loved the way that it was run! Apart from education my interests include feminism, bad puns and Buzzfeed quizzes.

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