Educators are finding ways to leverage social media sites like Facebook with learning.
By Aran Levasseur

We are witnessing the emergence of something profound: Humans, historically divided by geography, culture and creed, are beginning to connect and collaborate on a scale never seen before. The driving force behind this creative wave are digital tools and networks that allow new forms of collaboration and knowledge creation.

What starts out as social networking is evolving into social production. We’ve witnessed how self-organizing groups, leveraging social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia, have launched revolutions throughout the Arab world and created the most important reference work in the English language in less than 10 years.

In spite of all the potential to innovate surrounding blogs, forums, wikis and social networks, there are legions of detractors. And no institution is more skeptical about the benefits of social media than education. But there are also few institutions that have more to gain from social media.


Granted, not every use of social media is remarkable. And some might be downright problematic, even detestable. But all media evolves and can be used or misused.

Writing initially emerged as a form of record keeping in Mesopotamia. Only later was it used to tell stories, write laws and record history. And just because some people used writing in this more noble fashion, it didn’t prevent others from writing propaganda, hate, smut and gossip.

Rather than focusing exclusively on the problems, educators should be experimenting with how these new forms of social media can amplify student learning. Because social media enables collaboration, educators ought to be asking what social dimensions of learning might be enhanced by using these tools and networks?

Fortunately, a compelling landmark study on the importance of social interaction provides valuable insight. Richard J. Light, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, discovered that one of the most significant factors in students’ success was their ability to participate in study groups. What the study reveals boils down to this: Understanding is socially constructed through interactions with others. This implies that we need to focus more attention on how we learn most effectively, and the signs point toward social interaction.


Since the beginning of our evolutionary adventure on the east African savanna, humans have been social creatures. Although we can think and create in isolation, it’s when we work, delegate and exchange within the hive that synergy is created. If the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, then it underscores the power of group effort. And, according to Clay Shirky, a professor of Interactive Telecommunications at NYU, who wrote in his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, “The centrality of group effort to human life means that anything that changes the way groups function will have profound ramifications for everything from commerce and government to media and religion.”

Social media has the potential to revolutionize our model of learning by transforming individual students from information silos into smart nodes within a dynamic and interdependent learning network. By serving as the connective tissue of a learning environment — whether it’s a class, school or community organized around common interests — social media can enhance student communication, collaboration and problem solving by aggregating perspectives. Through the process of sharing our perspectives we can get closer to seeing the whole picture. With a more comprehensive picture we improve our ability to innovate and problem solve.

In a 1996 interview with Wired magazine, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that without diverse experiences and perspectives you won’t “have enough dots to connect and one ends up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.” Social media exposes us to a galaxy of dots, and through education we can provide students with the tools to begin the connection process.

This story was originally published by PBS MediaShift, covering the intersection of media and technology. Follow @PBSMediaShift for Twitter updates, or join us on Facebook. Read more in the Kids & Media series on MediaShift.

Aran Levasseur has an eclectic background that ranges from outdoor education to life coaching, and from habitat restoration to video production. For the last five years he’s taught middle school history and science. From the beginning he’s been integrating technology into his classes to enhance his teaching and student learning. He recently gave a talk at TEDxSFED on videogames and learning. Currently he’s the Academic Technology Coordinator at San Francisco University High School.



  • Anonymous

    Excellent J! Thank you for sending it my way! 

  • Autumn Bowling

    I am currently attending the University of South Alabama and majoring in Elementary Education.  I love this post.  I agree that educators don’t need to focus on the problems with social media.  They should try to use social media to enhance learning.  I am taking a class called EDM310 and in this class we are learning how to use all types of technology in our future classrooms.  We are experimenting with blogs, Facebook, pod cast, Youtube, twitter, etc. This class is preparing future educators to use social media as a learning tool.  Thank you for the post I enjoyed it.

  • Mikes4bikes

    This is just another educational fad that is not based on any empirical evidence other than it sounds good.  

    • I sort of agree with you, but I still haven’t given up on trying to use it effectively in my classroom.

  • Notary5tax25

    Social media is the new priest of our everyday shrinking universe.  The whole strenght and healing wounder of this newborn priest lies in its majical outreach.  The words coming out of modern media’s mouth travel with the speed of light.  Its magical powers are bringing down old taboos and planting seeds of hope and conganization in every house and heart.  It is time to stop hypocrisy and move beyond  suspicions.  Remember one thing, when mankind developed writing script, at times, it was also used for the abusive motives.  Did we give up writing?  Certainly not.  So dear, best thing to do is to stop suspecting and start creating.  Creating what?  Creating common sense solutions to any potentially misuse of social media.  The social media is a revolution without borders.  It can multiply the power of positive human sense and common good to manyfold.  Only way forward is to start trusting in the strenght of social media.  Believe me, it can do many wonders without much frustration and delay.

  • Gstarks14

    Technology is a tool, not a replacement for education. There needs to be a balanced approach to learning and we cannot de-value traditional learning methods while falling over ourselves to adopt the latest technology. We are now learning increasingly more about the negative impact that technology has had on education, especially early education, and I suspect that we will see an increasing amount of “pro-technology” pieces supporting technology in education coming out because of this, but we must remember that a primary goal in education is to teach children to think for themselves and to be independent learners- not dependent learners. Until we start seeing technology for what it is- a tool not a replacement- than I fear our children will continue to be used as guinea pigs for commercial companies intent on making their next big profit.

  • John

    Well, with every new technology, there is a “fad” component. I know of several “study groups” on Facebook, and most high school students have a FB window open while doing their homework, often consutling wiht their friends or checking on the answers.  There is an app called Study Hall on Facebook and iOS/Android (more info at that helps connect students with their peers and their teachers. There are many happy users of the app.

    Learning is about interactions with other users – any technology that enables such human connections and interactions is definitely more than a fad.

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