By Juan Felipe Guerrero C.

Raleigh, NC, United States

In 2004 and 2005, four students at Harvard University created a website where students from the university could enjoy fluid communication and share content in a simple way via the internet. Their creation was so successful that the site soon ceased to be for the exclusive use of Harvard students and spread to such an extent that it was available for any user, anywhere in the world. Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Mark Zuckerberg created and founded Facebook (although history only records the latter), a social networking service of which you’re no doubt a registered user.

Facebook is so big that around a quarter of people on earth have accounts, and is so powerful that with over 1,000 billion active users every day, it is the most important source of information for us beings that inhabit the third planet in the solar system.

Anyone who failed to benefit from what not only Facebook but also social media per se have to offer would be very silly, if we are talking of internet-related markets or industries. And online education, as is only to be expected, is no exception.

Foto AFP Travis Long Jane Bozarth (13)Jane Bozarth helped spur the use of social tools in teaching methods around the end of the last century. Universities and organizations with the highest quality standards in the world began to upload content and courses. As online methods and forms gradually evolved, so social tools began to play an ever more important role in supporting instruction. “Social media are the perfect channel for disseminating what online education offers: they are a means of being in contact with students before, during and after classes, often as an extension of an LMS or course management system”, says Bozarth. “It’s exactly the type of support that is needed for taking the industry to the next level. It allows you to communicate with someone you have never seen and will perhaps never meet in person, someone who is hundreds of kilometers away, in a very particular, often closely-connected, way”.

Most large and small corporations and companies, universities and colleges, instructional designers, teachers and students use social media as a method for ensuring that information, opinion and educational content are offered in a manner that is simple and efficient

Just as Samson’s long hair was the source of his strength, so it is the community that gives social media their most fundamental characteristic. “Social media can help people find solutions more easily,” Jane tells me. “I’ll give you an example. I need to know how to create a table and a few quick, do automatic tabulations in Excel. The way to learn would no doubt be to take either a face-to-face or a virtual course lasting five hours, where someone would explain to me in depth how to use the software. But all I want is to know how to do something specific, and no more, I’m not interested in becoming a software professional.  In that case I’d probably go to YouTube, where I’d find dozens of quick tutorials shared by others who are just offering help to people like me. That is “social”, isn’t it? For something not so easily found I would use social media to reach out to my network. For instance, maybe I want to know how colleagues set up their elearning design workflow. For that I’d probably tweet out a questions or two. I’m an active, engaged member of my community, and I’d get answers to my query very quickly”. 

Social media are the perfect channel for disseminating what online education offers: they are a means of being in contact with students before, during and after classes, often as an extension of an LMS or course management system.

A few years ago, Jane became involved in the popular #lrnchat, a Twitter chat originally aimed at learning and development professionals but now attended by many people interested in learning in general. It was founded seven years ago by Marcia Conner and some colleagues. It’s an example of social media that works very well for social learning, with a different topic offered under the hashtag every Thursday at 8:30 pm Eastern time. Specifically, #lrnchat was designed to help people talk together to understand and discover how people learn, not necessarily how we should teach them, and offers a real example of how people can learn together.

Communities that are formed around a simple hashtag, or around public or private Facebook groups, are often the cornerstone of social media relating to e-learning. But the community isn’t everything. The message and the audience are equally vital. “It depends what you want to talk about, what your goal is, who your audience is, your public”, says Jane, whose experience in the field dates back more than 15 years. “If I just want to take a course and I need somewhere where students can communicate with each other and share basic ideas, I can use Twitter, LinkedIn, or perhaps some internal tool. But if my goal is to create a captivating, participative conversation that includes much in the way of things like multimedia, the place to be would be perhaps a hub on Facebook complemented with YouTube, Vimeo, and maybe learner-generated media. Depending on the topic I might also encourage participants to follow experts and industry leaders and participate in some chats on Twitter”.

Social media support the gamut of individuals who form communities with similar interests, tastes, and visions.  This makes people feel more comfortable using them, even for academic purposes, because they are part of our everyday lives. Perhaps the only problem with social media is that they can sometimes stop being what they were. “Just one recommendation: don’t fall in love so quickly with every new tool that appears. Companies get bought all the time, and tools come and go and change.  Blab recently disappeared literally overnight, for instance. I suggest playing with new tools and if you decide to use one to support a class or other initiative, have a plan for what you’ll do if it changes or goes away.  Perhaps think about leaning more heavily on things that have been around for a while. Believe me, Facebook isn’t going to disappear tomorrow,” concludes Jane.

*Main photo by: 123rf, second photo: AFP Travis Long

*Jane Bozarth – expert in e-learning and social media training and education.
Jane Bozarth is eLearning Coordinator for North Carolina USA state government. She has written many books including the popular Social Media for Trainers and the new Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-Tos of Working Out Loud. Her dissertation research focused on social learning within a community of practice made up of instructors.