Search form

Study Suggests Benefits of Social Media in the Classroom

An educational theory gaining momentum in the literature may open the door to increased use of social media in schools.

facebookDr. Richard J. Light (Harvard School of Education) is a proponent of social constructivism, an aspect of social learning theory. This theory—supported by research identifying factors leading to college students’ success—says that people learn most effectively when they interact with other learners. According to Light, the strongest determinant of students’ success in college is their ability to form or participate in small study groups. He suggests that this is more important than their instructors’ teaching styles. Student research participants who studied in groups, even only once a week, were more engaged in their studies, were better prepared for class, and learned significantly more than students who worked on their own.

These outcomes have led some to tout social media—and its opportunities for “virtual study groups”--as an excellent way to increase student learning. Many routinely use Twitter hashtags and Facebook pages to discuss specific topics. Social media sites such as EdMoto and Saywire may be safer options for students, since they are closed to individuals outside of class and allow teachers to closely monitor interactions. For a discussion of additional free, secure collaboration tools such as brainstorming and chat platforms, see Free Tech Tools for Tough Times.

Light’s report added that social media, as a technology that is deemed “cool,” can attract younger learners. Social media platforms enable many engaging classroom activities, including “communities of practice” where learners can interact and share ideas. “This group learning format appeals to younger, socially conscious learners and is built around the notion that 'many minds are better than one,' " the report stated.

For example, the paper The Instructional Power of Digital Games, Social Networking and Simulations and How Teachers Can Leverage Them describes how one high school literature class used the Ning platform to promote discussion and share resources related to a book they were reading.

Studies suggest that approximately 70 percent of all organizations engage in structured collaboration using online social learning tools such as blogs, wikis and podcasts. The rise parallels the increased use of online tools like social media sites in schools.

Experts remind us, however, that there are clear “do’s and don’ts” for integrating social media in the classroom. According to the report Technology in Schools: What the Research Says, the choice to implement any classroom technology should be based on sound learning theory and should support a specific aspect of the curriculum. Teachers should have the backing and support of school leadership and have received prior training in use of technology tools to facilitate student learning. In addition, they should gather data to ensure that use of the technology is having the intended positive effects on students.

Finally, schools should update their Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to include proper use of social media on the part of both educators and students.

Related resources

Managing the Benefits of School-Sanctioned Social Media Use
Bringing Acceptable-Use Policies Into the 21st Century


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
Education World®         
Copyright © 2012 Education World