Has Social Media Really Revolutionized Education?

Mehmet Niyazi  |

Since LinkedIn’s (LNKD) acquisition of online education company Lynda.com for $1.5 billion last year, the role of social media in the education industry has once again come under the spotlight.

Whilst some commentators take delight in asserting that ‘social media will revolutionize education,’ others take a more measured approach, noting that very little has changed in classrooms across the world for over a century.

So where does the truth lie? Is social media really changing the face of education, or do billion dollar acquisitions provide a distorted view of reality?

Well, there’s no denying that today’s students, both young and old, are vastly different to students from any other time in history. As of 2015, 65% of American adults use social media and over 90% of teens have at least one social media account.

Now, even accounting for the fact that not all social media platforms are equal when considered in an educational context – a 140 character tweet for example will struggle to impart the same wisdom as a 20 minute Facebook Live (FB) broadcast – what can’t be denied is that we’re in an age where information is available to more people, with greater ease, than ever before.

What’s telling is that, as for all areas of life, social media has become the ‘go to place’ where people turn to for discussions, explanations and answers.

In much the same way as most TV shows now encourage viewers to use hashtags in order to take part in the conversation, people wanting to learn about practically any topic can find communities of likeminded people on social media too. Whereas previously a homework assignment about Pythagoras’ theorem may have had kids scratching their heads in confusion, today a Youtube search for the phrase “Pythagoras theorem explained” returns close to 90,000 results.

That can only be a good thing, especially when it comes to self-learning.

The conundrum the education industry faces, however, is how to actually leverage this for mass impact and maximum academic discourse. As any teacher will tell you, just because someone’s listening, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily learning.

And that’s where the problem lies.

How to Make Social Media Learning Effective

At present, social media is best suited as a discussion platform rather than a learning platform. Attempts by educators to incorporate social media into their teaching, whilst commendable, have amounted to little more than showcasing work on Instagram or encouraging collaborative projects on YouTube.

Commendable, but certainly not revolutionary.

It’s for that reason that the Lynda.com acquisition by LinkedIn is so exciting. For the first time of note, a giant social media platform is putting their hand in the air and publicly acknowledging that there is a great fit between social media and education (in particular online education and eLearning) and that it can go deeper than just a discussion.

It’s no coincidence that as social media has become a bigger force in day-to-day life, the eLearning industry has also begun to bloom. As of 2015, the eLearning industry was estimated to be worth $107 billion. By comparison, in 2010 the market was worth just $32 billion.

Taking this into account, especially within the microcosm of the business sector, Linkedin has made it easy – almost seamless – for professionals to further their learning by selecting courses that will help with career progression.

That’s a great step in the right direction.

Has this translated to classrooms yet?

Has social media made a real impact on the way teachers teach in schools?

There’s been a slow trickle, but wide scale adoption remains limited.

But is it infiltrating the online educational environment?

Absolutely. It’s now easier to access information and communicate with others than ever before.

Where the greatest potential for disruption lies – where perhaps the next billion dollar company will be born – is in taking this precedent and running with it.

If – no, when - a social media platform is born that challenges teachers to become better, not in what they teach, but in how they teach it, maybe then the revolution will truly ignite.

(Photo 2 by Scott Beale)

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