Is Social Media Social Learning?

The easy answer is: No, social media is not social learning.

So, what is the relationship between social media and social learning? I like to think of them as the tool and the blueprint. Social media is a tool. It can exist on its own, separate from social learning, but it can also be incorporated into learning to support social learning processes. Whereas social learning is the theory, it is the blueprint we are using to inform our pedagogical approach. And, social learning is also possible without social media.

The idea of social learning has existed long before the popularization of social media (see Bandura 1963 and 1977) and, therefore, is not dependent on these softwares. Likewise, incorporating a social media software into your course does not automatically guarantee that you are fostering an effective social learning environment. However, if used appropriately, social media can be a great tool to promote social learning.

In my previous article, Keep it Social, I discussed the role of modeling in learning as well as the cognitive and behavioral processes of attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation in the learning process. Social media can be a great tool for promoting the modeling process because it is full of symbolic, verbal, and live models, but does it promote attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation?

This all depends on how you utilize it in your instruction. Social media is massive and full of information and resources which makes it ideal for promoting metacognitive processes, active learning, and connectivism; all of which can aid in student attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. But, because of how large social media can be, it can also be full of distractions that can detract from learning. So, before you jump into incorporating social media into your course, ask yourself think about the following to ensure that your social media is promoting learning:

Does it Support Learning?

Before you plug social media into your course, first stop and ask yourself, why? If your answer boils down to it’s popular among my students, it’s flashy, it’s new, or other teachers are using it, you may want to reconsider. Instead, identify social media to incorporate into your course based on how it will support learning. Does it align with your learning objectives? How will it affect student attention to course objectives? Will it allow them to get distracted by unimportant material, or will it funnel their attention into important material? How will it help students retain information so they can then reproduce the desired behaviors and learning? Can you use it to help motivate students, especially those students that are perhaps not as motivated during in-class activities? Keep in mind, social media is just one of many tools you are using in your instruction so it doesn’t have to, and probably won’t, be your magic fix for learning. But, make sure the benefits outweigh the detriments.

Structure and Focus

Once you have identified social media that does support learning, the next step is to ensure that you structure the use of social media appropriately. Social media can be great at connecting us with other people and ideas, but it can also be quite large, overwhelming, and distracting. Help your students get the most out of social media by providing structure and focus. Structure social media into assignments and activities for the class. Provide students with clear goals and instructions for their use of social media. This will help students focus their attention, as well as retain critical information. In addition, provide early and frequent feedback to help students stay motivated and improve upon their attempts at reproduction.

How Will You Support It?

Make sure you have a plan for providing technical support for any technology you use in the classroom. Whether this be utilizing support from your own IT department, finding useful tutorials online to reference, or being the support yourself. If students are unable to successfully utilize the social media in your course, they’re going to fall behind in all areas of the social learning process. Their attention will most likely be diverted to the technology problem instead of the learning objectives, this redirection of attention will affect their ability to retain and reproduce important concepts, and the combination of struggling with technology and class material could be detrimental to their motivation.

Encourage Good Digital Citizenship

Before unleashing your students into the realm of social media, make sure that they are prepared to use the technology in a responsible and appropriate way. Take time to include a lesson on Digital Citizenship to make sure students are staying safe, following laws, using appropriate etiquette, and creating a positive online presence for themselves. This will remove, remediate, or prepare students to handle online stressors such as cyberbullying, online predators and legal complications and instead promote a safe learning environment where students are free to converse and share ideas.


Are you using social media in your course? Share with us in the comments below your experience!



Additional Resources

Bandura, Albert (1963). Social learning and personality development. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston

Bandura, Albert (1977). Social learning theory. Oxford, England: Prentice-Hall.

Ribble, Mike (2015). Digital citizenship: Using technology appropriately.

Alex is a dual-hatted (or should I say hooded) academic with Master’s degrees in both Anthropology and Educational Technology. Alex specializes in understanding the interactions between learners and technology, the socio-cultural learning environment, Web 2.0 learning strategies, and creating interactive, technology-enhanced learning experiences.

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