Since fall 2014, mobile devices officially outnumber people on the planet. With the ubiquitous access to mobile technologies, social media has become a global phenomenon. According to the data portal Statista, the power of social networking is such that the number of worldwide users is expected to reach some 3.02 billion monthly active social media users by 2021, around a third of Earth’s entire population. An estimated 750 million of these users in 2022 are expected to be from China alone and approximately a third of a billion from India. The region with the highest penetration rate of social networks is North America, where around 70 percent of the population has at least one social account. As of 2017, 81 percent of the United States population had a social networking profile.
How can we begin to understand what this means for learning and teaching?
First and foremost, we need to recognize social media as a global phenomenon, that is enacted locally, with adaption practices that will vary regionally: Globally, 45 % of the population are social media users, but the adoption varies widely between different countries: In Germany, 42.8 million people use social media, in the US the number is 243.6 million. While the current usage rate in North America id 61%, the adoption rate in Western Europe is 45%. As of January 2018, 36% of Germans have active social media accounts (Source: Statista).
Social media is a term that is broadly used to describe any number of technological systems related to collaboration and community. While it appears that a specific definition may be elusive, social media is often described by example. Social networking sites, blogs, wikis, multimedia platforms, virtual game worlds, and virtual social worlds are among the applications typically included (Tess, 2013). Globally, 65% of Internet users worldwide use Facebook, 42% WhatsApp, 27% Instagram, 23% Twitter, 12% Snapchat (Source: Statista).
What characteristics do these sites have in common? Social media are organic and self-organizing, underpinned by dynamics that parallel natural processes. Social media tools have an emergent structure, formed from bottom-up control rather than top-down design, allowing the social construction of meaning and relatively effortless collaboration in new and interesting ways (Dron, 2007).
Can social media make us smarter? Outside schools and colleges, people learn less formally. Some use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to share ideas and engage in conversations. With mobile technologies and social media, learning is becoming more seamless – that is, boundaries between formal and informal learning disappear, learning becomes more student-centered, and happens by whatever means are available, convenient and comfortable for the learner.
“Social media allows us this extended level of engagement – rather than occasional face I the lecture hall, seen at a blurred distance, your tutor can be an almost-omnipresent actor – agile in digital response, facing a differentiated student body with bespoke content, while simultaneously generating materials that be re-tasked as authentic, course-specific marketing collateral.” (Webster 2016, p. 898)
Social Media sites can offer a range of learning opportunities, to access expert advice, encounter challenges, defend opinions and amend ideas in the face of criticism (Innovating Pedagogy Report 2016). Some organizations and individuals have set up social media specifically to offer informal learning opportunities. The following examples are updated from the 2016 Innovating Pedagogy report and illustrate how social media levels the playing field between passionate individuals and large organizations:
- @RealTimeWWII is Twitter account with 519,000 followers. The author Alwyn Collinson is a digital editor at the Museum of London. He started the Twitter channel at age 24. Collinson bases his tweets on eyewitness accounts, photographs and videos, giving the impression that his tweets are coming straight from the time. The goals of the project are to educate followers about the sequence of events in World War Two and to give a sense of what the war felt like to ordinary people. The first run started in 2011 and ended in August 2017. Currently, the project is in its second round of recounting the war.
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uses a range of social media to share its work. NASA Space Place engages and inspires kids online with games, activities and articles (‘not all full moons look the same’, ‘the amount of salt n saltwater varies’). Each NASA spacecraft has its own Twitter account and personality, allowing learners to follow current missions such as Juno. NASA Solve enables people to engage in the USA’s aerospace program through citizen science activities. The site invites members of the public to contribute their time and expertise in order to advance research and solve problems.
- Draw a mindmap of your personal learning environment. What does your personal learning environment look like? Please reflect upon how you learn, at your university, in and out of classes, at home, with friends, in the coffee shop. What are the formal and informal learning experiences that shape what you know? What tools and technologies do you use to learn? Does social media play a role at all?
- Find examples of how social media enrich informal learning opportunities. Find an example of learning with social media about a topic / organization that interests you. For example, a museum, library, club, community…. Your can example can be local or international.
Dron, J. (2007). Designing the undesignable: Social software and control. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 10(3)
Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Tess, P. A. (2013). The role of social media in higher education classes (real and virtual)–A literature review. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(5), A60–A68.
Webster, D. (2016). Navigating education, ethics and engagement in a social media world. In Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning (pp. 898-902). Washington, DC, United States: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).