Best practices

Using social media for eLearning (a look at the top 6 social platforms)

social-media-elearning

Social media have become an indispensable part of modern life. A huge part of our social lives already happens online rather than in the “real world”. And while individual social media networks might rise and fall (remember MySpace?), social networking itself is not going anywhere.

It makes sense then to want to use those powerful and hugely popular platforms for things besides posting cat videos or catching up with Alex from high school. And indeed, people already use them for things ranging from gaming down to email replacement and even disaster management. But how about using social media as vehicles for eLearning?

In this post we’ll go through the six most popular social media networks and evaluate their fitness for the task.

Twitter

The most appealing thing about Twitter is also its major limitation: you have to fit your content in 140 characters.

This limit makes using Twitter for general eLearning problematic. Even if your content could somehow fit, Twitter encourages a rapid-fire consumption of tweets, so it’s not the best place for a deep learning experience.

There’s also the fact that Twitter provides few mechanisms for saving, cataloguing and viewing tweets at a later time, besides the rather inflexible hashtags; it’s more a stream-of-messages than a content repository.

On the other hand, the 140-character limit makes Twitter a handy platform for micro-learning. Especially combined with the abundance of mobile clients, it enables you to use Twitter as a delivery mechanism for short bursts of eLearning content (think flash-cards or “word of the day” kind of affairs).

Besides using Twitter for eLearning delivery, you can also use it as a supplementary tool for your main eLearning platform. It excels in real-time feedback and discussion, but also as a marketing tool for your eLearning offering and as a way to advertise new courses and content.

Twitter is also very popular with the younger demographics. If your eLearning content is targeted primarily to them, then this makes Twitter ideal for connecting with your desired audience.

YouTube

The world’s largest repository of cat videos, is also a bona fide social network of its own right, just one that doesn’t use text but video as its starting point.

The main ingredients are all there: your uploaded content is shared with the internet at large, which can then view it, “like” it or “hate” it, add comments, post “video responses”, annotate it, share it and subscribe to your channel.

Compared to Twitter, using YouTube for eLearning is more straightforward. In fact, there are tons of YouTube channels doing just that, e.g. providing foreign language lessons, cooking lessons, musical lessons, and everything in between.

This works great for material that can be taught visually, but YouTube doesn’t make it easy to accompany your videos with textual content, slideshows, quizzes, etc. For this, you’ll need an actual LMS platform.

You also shouldn’t depend on YouTube ads to monetize your lessons, as it pays around $1000 per million views, while producing compelling videos that attract as many viewers can require many times that amount.

It’s better to use YouTube as a complementary channel to your existing LMS portal, one that provides free or ad-sponsored teasers, free lessons and previews in order to attract people to sign-up for your pay-walled content.

If, on the other hand, you’re not selling courses (e.g. you do enterprise eLearning) or you’re not creating your own videos, you can still benefit from YouTube as a huge repository of ready-made content.

YouTube contains a large variety of high quality material on every subject, and modern LMS platforms, such as eFrontPro, make it easy to embed its videos in your eLeaning courses.

Instagram

Instagram is kind of like Twitter, but its limitation is that it’s all about visual content, either pictures or video that’s only up to 15 seconds long.

Unlike YouTube, Instagram is not much good as a content repository to get course related material from. It’s also more distracting and limited compared to Twitter (which is saying something).

While Instagram might seem like a lost cause, it does have a couple of redeeming qualities.

For one, it can re-post your messages across several social media (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and others, including China’s hugely popular Weibo). So, you can use it as a convenient way of cross-posting your content to different audiences.

Second, it’s popular with the younger demographic, and being based on photography and video, quite fun to use. You can leverage this by incorporating it in your assignments as a light research tool (asking your learners to gather images related to what they’re studying, e.g. examples of buildings in various styles for an architectural course, etc.).

Facebook

Facebook is the Godzilla of social networks. It’s also the more feature complete one: it has text, images, videos, scoring, comments, pages, sharing, and a full web-based embedded app platform.

As such, it has a huge potential for eLearning, which, we think it hasn’t really stood up to.

This doesn’t mean that it isn’t used already for eLearning purposes, or that you shouldn’t use it for those ends. On the contrary, there’s already a lot you can do with it.

For starters, if you’re selling eLearning courses Facebook is your ideal marketing platform.

It’s a social network with over a billion people, that keeps detailed statistics for their preferences, hobbies, friends, social status, income and other such data. Besides, eLearning content is something that can benefit from a longer FB post, compared to a smaller AdSense ad in Google’s search results.

Facebook is also a handy way to create an online community page based on specific courses you offer or for your whole eLearning business as well.

As for course related feedback and collaboration, you can use it for that too, but perhaps it would be better to use your LMS built-in forum functionality (if available), so that this content remains in your control for the long term.

Last, but not least, there’s the app platform. This enables you to create web-based applications embedded in Facebook and even monetize them. This can, and has, been used for eLearning, including for some eLearning meta-platforms. As with every proprietary platform though, you have to think if the tradeoff of giving up control (since Facebook dictates the terms around third-party apps) is worth it for the extra convenience (exposure, infrastructure, etc) the platform provides.

If you decide to go this route, we’d advise you to not put all of your eggs in one basket. As Zynga discovered, it can get bad if the owner of the basket wants to change the terms of use or increase its share of the profits.

Google+

On paper (or monitor), Google+ looks good. Several hundred million accounts, backed by Google, well featured, modern design, etc.

In practice it’s the online equivalent of a ghost town.

See Google+ never really caught on, and the user count Google gives is based on inflated statistics (trust me, I’m a Greek, I know from doctored statistics). Google is basically counting as a Google+ user anyone with an updated YouTube or Gmail account ― despite the fact that they have never set foot on “Google+ the social network”.

Don’t get us wrong: Google+’s actual active user base is still substantial, but nowhere as large as that of FB.

This scarcity of users makes Google+ unfit as a marketing vehicle to attract eLearning customers. If you’re OK with that, e.g. if you just want to invite your existing students to a Google+ group, then it’s probably just as good as Facebook, features-wise, and with a cleaner and more focused UI to top.

There are also the Google+ Hangouts, a popular solution for teleconference that includes video chat and instant messaging. Google+ Hangouts are quite limited compared to some other teleconference platforms (e.g. it only allows up to 10 people at a time, it doesn’t support shared screens or virtual whiteboards, etc), but it can come handy if your LMS doesn’t offer that functionality.

LinkedIn

Unlike the rest of the bunch, this social network is all about your professional life. After all it started out as a glorified resume site that recruiters and HR teams could use to find potential hires.

As such, it might not be great from using as an eLearning tool, but it can be of great benefit for your students.

If you’re in the business of offering professional training courses, for example, you’re mostly catering to people that want to further their skills in order to improve their hireability and land a better job.

These are exactly the people that will benefit the most from a well crafted LinkedIn profile, but you’d be amazed by how many of them either don’t have one at all or have a neglected, incomplete, profile.

Teaching your students how to craft the perfect profile and how to leverage LinkedIn can make a big difference in their professional life after they complete your courses ― which increases the odds of them recommending your eLearning service to others and coming back for more.

In fact, if your lessons are targeted at job-seekers, it might be a good idea to not just leave it to LinkedIn, but to offer a class to teach them all about creating a good CV, preparing for an interview, and the like, of which LinkedIn and online reputation management in general should be a core part.

Oh, and if you offer business administration and management style courses, LinkedIn user posts have a trove of information from big players and business veterans that you can point your students to and incorporate in your courses.

Conclusion

We had a look at the 6 most popular social networks, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram.

While not all social media platforms are equally fit for eLearning purposes, a successful eLearning business should take a good look in incorporating one or more of the major social media in its offering.

Keep in mind though that each social media platform has its own strengths and weaknesses and it’s own peculiar take on the concept of “social” that you should respect and try to work within its bounds.

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Until next week, happy eLearning!