Social media in higher education is a technology in transition. Learners and educators both find social media an appealing way to supplement formal learning, but the evidence for its effectiveness in formal courses remains inconclusive. Surprisingly, it is educators, not learners, who are leading the charge to experiment with social media. Educators, nearly as engaged as learners using the ubiquitous Facebook, have broadened their use of social media much more so than learners. Educators are attempting to find ways to fit social media into their models of teaching and learning while the learners seem content with social media remaining as a virtual social construct best left out of the learning equation.
This new study looks at a broad range of social media interactions in higher education and concludes that any juggernaut of social media activity transforming the classroom may be more illusion than reality. Although there is ample evidence that social media is being used in formal learning, preferences for its use remain far behind those of face-to-face communications (52.5% of learners prefer face-to-face as the primary way to communicate with educators), and e-mail (45.6% chose e-mail as their first choice, and 51.3% selected it as their second choice). Facebook was a distant third. Only a combined total of 8.5% of learners selected Facebook as their first or second choice for instructor communication. Services like Rate My Professors, however, which uses social feedback to rate educators, was used frequently, with 64% of those using the service agreeing or strongly agreeing that it accurately reflected their personal experiences with faculty.
This study suggests that social media is best used when it is understood by faculty and applied in a way that complements formal learning. Educators will likely facilitate the introduction of social media into classroom situations where they believe it can add value. Over the short term learners may constrain their use of social media to schedule coordination, learning augmentation and informal learning, if educators succeed, social media will be tightly integrated with the learning experiences, both virtual and experiential.
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Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.