Social media in adult learning: benefits and uses
EPALE Thematic Coordinator Andrew McCoshan surveys the social media landscape to see what it can offer adult learning.
Four reasons for using social media
Social media are rapidly becoming part of everyday life. Usage varies from country to country, but the spread of smart phones seems set to make them ubiquitous. So what are the advantages of using them in adult learning?
Social media platforms are open 24/7. Students can access learning whenever and wherever they want. There is potential for teachers to be able to respond to students in real time, solving problems instantly rather than having to wait until they are next together in the classroom.
2. Stimulating collaboration
Social media platforms are built for interaction so it is no surprise that they can be ideal for collaboration in learning. This is not just a matter of teacher-learner interaction but of enabling learners to work together and support one another.
3. ‘Real-world’ connectivity
Social media are embedded in our everyday worlds. This can be a huge advantage in making learning ‘real’ for people, especially those who might have found their time at school a challenge.
4. Involving learners in finding and sharing resources
The real-world connectivity of social media has the further effect of being able to involve learners directly in finding and sharing resources – in what is termed the ‘co-creation’ of the curriculum.
Six practical things adult educators can do with social media
So if social media can be so advantageous, what can we actually use them for?
1. Group chats
Group chats on Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, for example, can be used in a number of ways. Teachers can post assignments, remind learners of deadlines and post links to good online resources. Students can also share links and they can ask questions both of their teachers and peers. Group chats are also good places for debates.
2. Sending tweets
Tweeting is a great way to connect learners to the real world. This can be particularly valuable for people learning basic skills as it roots their learning in their everyday experiences. Teachers can also create their own hashtags that they can use to push content to their students. They can also connect with other teachers.
3. Keeping and collating educational resources
Finding educational resources online can be easy but making them easily accessible for learners can be another matter. Platforms like Pinterest enable educators to create boards and pin relevant information.
4. Using personal blogs
Giving each learner their own blog can be a useful tool where learners are submitting written work. Rather than submitting work in hard copy, they can do so via their blog, which has the benefit that it is shared not just with the teacher but also with other learners. Blogs are also highly flexible insofar as students can illustrate their thoughts with photos or videos, which may be useful in terms of building confidence in contexts where learners are developing basic skills.
5. Sharing photos
Since ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, platforms like Instagram can be extremely valuable, enabling students to demonstrate their work in an alternative format to written work, such as in adult vocational programmes. It can also encourage creativity for people who would otherwise feel inhibited in expressing themselves. It is also a valuable tool for showcasing work and celebrating progress as well as ultimate successes to followers who can be friends and family, wider community groups etc.
6. Recording and posting videos
This is almost certainly the most labour-intensive of all the things educators can do with social media but it offers many advantages. Educators can record lessons for students to watch at their convenience, keeping classroom time for discussion. And learners who find it easier to communicate verbally rather than in writing may find using videos inspiring. For instance, learners can film themselves undertaking tasks. Videos can be posted on YouTube or you could even livestream, e.g. on YouTube or Facebook, if you are feeling brave enough!
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 30 years. For more than 15 years he has conducted studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently an independent researcher and consultant, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.