Social Media Directed Learning

by Ellen Wardle

“A social media environment can be leveraged to offer a broad range of learning experiences in an online format.” – The Omniview

Author and online activist John Green declared in a 2012 Ted X Talk, that it was online video and the content creation community that had brought him back into the world of learning as an adult, past the point of his tertiary education. The value of the community of autonomously educated people he had found online had reignited his passion for self-directed education.

One of the most valuable things we find in higher education is our cohort of engaged learners who have taken the time (and accepted the costs) to pursue their individual interests through tertiary education.

Online Video and Social Media

Online video and other social media have spawned a selection of interactive (and often free) learning opportunities among teens and adults alike. Anyone with an internet connection can learn monetizable skills such as coding, photography, copyediting, and even take up a hobbyist interest in physics if they please – all on their own terms and according to whatever schedule they keep.

Those who are multilingual content creators could very well be the new renaissance man – copywriters, educators, photographers, videographers and editors with web-building abilities. These polymath’s have, as mentioned above, drawn from different streams of complex knowledge and development to create entirely new industries and revolutionise others.

“Humans are limitless in their capacity for development” was a pillar of thought within renaissance humanism. If so, the persistence of contemporary society to continue in the trends of the industrial revolution, despite such huge technological advances – that impact even the most mundane activities in our micro lives – seems short sighted. There is a widespread argument that technology is making us stupid – but perhaps it’s just making us different. Perhaps it is a redesign of those renaissance-age studies of humanities – but the humanities no longer consist of the same subjects – such as history and grammar, but something more necessary for this societal evolution, more efficient, more interactive, visual and social.

Higher Education is Self-Directed

Much of higher education is self-directed. Yet even in 2018 education institutions are still directing students toward libraries where we peruse books or online articles largely on our own and without community. Commonly-used higher education websites that look to build communities or offer an online module for higher education, and distant/mature students such as Moodle, suffer from a somewhat outdated forum-like interface, lacking the graphical user interface and intuitive mapping that feels so natural to those seeking online information nowadays. The latter allows for learning based on an almost reactionary level – with the constant connections to smartphones and the download of new data to our brains mapping an efficient mode of learning that far outpaces that provided by many contemporary educational institutions.

If we look at the history of these institutions we realise that the mode of learning currently used reflects a trend that came about in the post-industrial age, and that with the capabilities of the information age, a more progressive view of the role of youth and learning might be created.

Enter social media and innate learning opportunities. Across the past 10-15 years we have seen a huge boom in online businesses – from e-commerce to the trade of skills creating skilled labourers who have managed to diversify their expertise across a range of industries, and in some cases blend these skills to create new ones.

The set-up of higher education offers an inherent opportunity for self-directed learning, the motivation already exists, as does the community. According to the Omniview, a company created to use data to match talent to jobs: “ A social media environment can be leveraged to offer a broad range of learning experiences in an online format.”

The Omniview lists the following as vital points of creating a self-direct social media learning format:

Goal setting, facilitative interactions, resource support, progress evaluation and recognition for goals achieved.

Resource Support

Resource support could be the most easily leveraged by universities given an SEO or algorithm based sculpture reminiscent of platforms such as Youtube, which uses both to provide easily sourced content of educational and entertaining content. An app like Instagram – which recently rolled out IGTV – a long-form vertical video application insulated within the Instagram app, or accessible via a standalone format – could be reformatted into an education institution housed within a smartphone. The interface for written, photographic, pop-up, and long form video or audio content has already been created, and the precedent for learning has already been set if we take note of the amount of people who have monetised content creation, or repurposed their accounts for education and activism across various communities. The standard for native learning has already been set for those of us who use these applications, disappear down information rabbit holes, grant ourselves passive income streams from consumers of our content, or absorb the skills of others by observing.

If we look at this theory in the context of recreating the material we have digested, as proposed by Peter Doolittle in his Ted X Talk ‘How your “working memory” makes sense of the world’, we can visualise already our brains reprogramming around new information. A quick video on how to use software to recreate something we have seen another do (such as set up a blog, edit a photo, create an animation) followed by our own experiment in the practise makes for faster and more efficient learning. Our brains are designed to learn in this native, interactive manner so well used by marketing geniuses through apps to sell desirable goods.

“Working memory capacity allows us to reach our current goals” says Doolittle – understanding our class-based content is a current goal. If that content were presented in a social, goal-based, open-plan manner the meaning extracted would be more closely aligned with our autonomous end goals as students.

Education can be structured via a matrix to create the best curriculum design, and the relation of social media to education can create open plan resource support that helps students define and conquer their short term educational goals by having students sculpt out those goals for themselves post processing.

The question is, how can social media and integrate and occupy a defined role within higher education, that reflects and enriches  current higher education standards?

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