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7 Ways That Social Networking Tools Can Enable Social Learning in the Classroom

by Kelly Walsh on June 5, 2011

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Instructional uses of social networking software can provide opportunities for learning, connecting, and engagement.

This year, I’ve written frequently about popular social media tools, and education-specific social networking apps, and social enterprise solutions. I’ve also noticed increasing coverage of this topic in the media recently. Maybe it’s just me paying more attention to it … or maybe it signals an increasing acceptance of these types of tools as legitimate and effective resources for the classroom.

Social networking tools aren’t going away any time soon, they appear to be here for the long term. But do these kinds of applications really belong in the classroom? I think they do, and here are a few reasons why:

7 ways in which “social learning applications” can play an impactful role in education:

Engagement: Using social media and networking tools obviously has a social aspect to it, and it requires proactive effort on the part of the user. In other words, using these tools to communicate and interact requires a student’s active engagement. Socialization also provides opportunities for emotional engagement (this article from The Chronicle discusses the importance of emotional engagement as part of the social learning process).

Social Learning: Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that “people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling”. Of course, the type of socialization that occurs via “social” computer tools is certainly different than face-to-face social interaction, but it still offers opportunities for social learning.

Use time outside of class better, so you can use in-class time better: Social learning tools also position instructors to deliver content outside of the classroom, and then “flip” the classroom – working on what would have been homework during class sometimes. (And yes, this is the same idea I loved from Salman Khan’s recent TED talk the other week).

It provides opportunities for writing and writing assessment: While tools like Twitter lend themselves to abbreviated “texting” style uses of language, there is no need for this in most other forums. Teachers can choose to include grading of writing quality as part of the rubrics they develop for grading social media based assignments and class work.

Encourage dialogue, reach more students: It’s social! “Let’s talk”! Sometimes anything that can draw out reluctant teens and pre-teens is a good thing when the goal is to communicate. One clear advantage of socializing across the Internet is that it is seen as less intimidating that face to face contact, and can allow shy students to express themselves more comfortably.

Help students get ahead of the professional curve: One of the fundamental goals of education is to position young people for enjoyable, successful careers. Social media is becoming more important to business with each passing year. Many organizations have moved from just discussing “social media awareness” and “social marketing” to including actually social media business planning as part of their strategic planning efforts. An increasing number of professional positions desire or require social media awareness, and it seems likely that more positions will call for this skill in the future.

Build connections: Using social networking tools to deliver social learning experiences in the classroom provides opportunities to meet other students and have access (depending on the tools being used) to other educators and professionals. Maintaining connections and communicating with these new colleagues has never been easier, thanks to these Internet based applications.

Of course, it’s a pain that many of these tools are also blocked on school’s networks (hopefully this list can help you make the case for unblocking some of these sites at your school!). I do also realize that these tools can be used in a distracting way, and expose kids to inappropriate content, so there must always be an appropriate level of guidance, selection of tools, and oversight.

Learning More
If you’re new to Social Learning, and are thinking about learning some more about these tools (maybe over the summer, if you’re a teacher who is off during those months), here’s a set of posts that discuss the use of mass market tools Facebook and Twitter in class work, as well various education-specific tools like Edmodo and Room21.

If you’re a regular reader (and I hope you are :)), you know we love to hear comments and insights from other readers, so please click here and let us know about your experiences with social media in the classroom, your questions, or any other reasons you think social learning tools are a good idea!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
10 internet technologies that educators should be informed about

10 Free Educational Game Sites
Adaptive Learning, An Idea With Powerful Potential

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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