Facebook as a Social Learning Platform

In Education, Educational Technology

The levels of user engagement on which commercial social networking sites like Facebook thrive therefore remains utterly unattainable for school learning platforms that attempt to reproduce faithfully traditional models of teaching and learning

Many schools now use web-based learning platforms to support and supplement the delivery of teaching and learning. Although they are undeniably useful in the educational context, learning platforms do lilttle more than support – and thus attempt to perpetuate – the traditional model of teacher-centred pedagogy and, as such, fail to deliver the kind of transformative change that would place students at the centre of their own learning.

Many will argue that learning platforms do facilitate teaching and learning. This, in my view, is unquestionable and a positive step in the right direction. But few are able to say hand on heart that the learning platforms they are implementing succeed in engaging their students beyond low-level transactional interactions: here’s my homework, here’s your grade.

In many cases, communication is only allowed to take between teachers and students, but not among students. In fact, the one factor that would ensure student engagement is often blocked out of those platforms which do support it: social networking. Schools remain by and large terrified of allowing their students to communicate among themselves.

The levels of user engagement on which commercial social networking sites like Facebook thrive therefore remains utterly unattainable for school learning platforms that attempt to reproduce faithfully traditional models of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, this pill comes with substantial side-effects: without this coveted student engagement, learning platforms tend to become overpriced and unwieldy repository of word documents and powerpoint presentations.

For these reasons I believe that learning platforms are nothing more than a stopgap solution, a temporary workaround while both students and schools come round to accepting that web-based social networking is here to stay and that we would benefit greatly from exploiting its potential rather than legislating against what is, after all, the means of communications of choice of hundreds of millions of people.

Facebook has recently announced it’s testing a new student groups feature which will allow students from a particular educational institution to use their Facebook accounts to engage in academic business. Given that many schools are currently exploring Facebook as a means to engage their students Рmostly via Facebook pages Рit does not take a huge leap of the imagination to envisage a few tweaks of the code that would allow courses and resources to be shared productively, with students able to take a more active role in their learning and teachers becoming facilitators-in-chief in such a new, safe and engaging environment.

Fanciful? Perhaps. But so were Twitter departmental accounts and school Facebook pages not that long ago. This may still seem like be a step too far in the minds of many, but the path down which we‚Äôre heading ultimately leads to an education system supported and benefitting from web-based social learning platforms. And there is no reason whatsoever why Facebook couldn’t be one.

What do you think?


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  1. How do you deal with the following question? If you make FB available to students in school won’t they fritter their time away in social chit chat, as they often do at home?

    • Your question implies, in my view, at least two erroneous assumptions:

      1) Facebook is not available in schools. Any student with a half decent smartphone will beg to differ.

      2) Students waste their time of Facebook. If it were true that they wasted all their time on Facebook, then would it really be their fault or ours for having failed to provide them with appropriate alternative models? 

      However, I know this isn’t true: I know for a fact that many of my students regularly use Facebook to pursue their own interests – music, art, languages… – and even to help one another with their school work, especially the older ones. I am certain that is most definitely not wasted time.

      In any case – and in answer to your question – you shouldn’t blame them for frittering their time away if you haven’t taught them better. That’s where we need to start.

      Thank you for your comment Steven.

      • Hi Jos√©. At our school students cannot use phones except at lunchtime and they generally stick to that rule. Secondly, in my experience, students mainly use FB for swapping jokes, saying what they are doing and swapping little remarks, just as many people use Twitter. If we want them using their time fruitfully in private study at school, then I fear FB would distract them. I don’t believe it’s a question of educating them how to use it. They choose to use it for social purposes.

        I still feel that social media are just that, essentially social. Now, I also know that the VLE concept is having mixed success, so maybe it is the case that we haven’t yet found quite the right online medium.

        As a previous poster said, the are questions about Facebook in terms of how it is using our information to feed advertising, as that recent TV programme about Zuckerberg explained.

        Finally, I don’t see too much broken with current teaching methods (at laest in my school) so I don’t feel a pressing need to fix anything!



        • And there it is. That’s why our opinions differ. You think nothing is wrong with demanding that your students lock away their smartphones in lockers and you feel that educating students to use technology appropriately isn’t worth your while.

          I see plenty there to fix, my friend. Time will tell who’s right, I suppose (and it may well not be me, I accept).

          Thanks for the follow up comment Steven.

  2. My department has had a fb page for a couple of years to share resources and exam / revision tips, never been an issue, over 200 pupils follow it, and it goes hand in hand with our twitter page which more and more students are accessing.

  3. Awesome post. We don’t have any decent LMS because the people that make them are just following old thinking. Facebook may be a start, but I don’t think it’s the solution. I think what we need hasn’t been invented yet!

  4. Facebook was designed as a means of making money, and it exists purely to that end. The fact that many of us use it to share our photos or tell everyone what we’re thinking doesn’t change that. ¬†The reason it’s free is that with every click, we deliver more data to Facebook, who, in turn, can build up a richer picture of us and sell ever more targeted advertising space. ¬†When we use Facebook we are, in economic terms, nothing more than livestock taking advantage of the marvellous green grass and lovely dry straw in the barn which the farmer provides for us. ¬†That we are nothing more than a commodity to be sold occurs to us no more than it does to the animals. ¬†I have deep misgivings about educators delivering yet more power (and that’s ultimately what it is: knowledge and cash are a pretty potent combination) to an organisation which has a very questionable record when it comes to privacy and security, and no interest in learning or scholarship whatsoever.

    Secondly, let’s not confuse meaningful engagement with short-term excitement. ¬†Using Facebook pages as a means of communicating with students is great – I treat mine as a virtual noticeboard, knowing that students will be notified of updates. ¬†But that’s pretty much where the excitement ends: Facebook and Twitter are just new ways of doing what we’ve always done.

    In the end, the 140 characters of a tweet or the half-second deciding whether or not to ‘like’ a Facebook post, do not equate to the sort of thoughtful, deep engagement with a subject that really constitutes learning. ¬†Facebook is designed to maximise the number of clicks we can make in the shortest possible time; it does not encourage concentration or reflection, which are the skills our students most need. ¬†This is not a question of training the students to use the tool differently: it’s like asking them to clean their teeth with a drill. ¬†Social networking is great and exciting and of course here to stay, but what do we learn if we spend all our time tweeting?

  5. As much as using Facebook is ‘relevant’ for learners I simply do not think there are enough tools in Facebook to a) leverage the learning properly and b)safeguard one’s own privacy. I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

  6. Brian, are you agreeing with me? I do say in the main body that the student group feature being tested in the US is what sparkled my interest, not the plain day-to-day Facebook functionality. As to the bargepole bit, famous last words methinks!

    Will, thanks for the disquisition on the commercial nature of Facebook. You make some valid points about advertising and I would also echo your concerns about privacy but, like Brian, above, you seem to focus on how useless to education the Facebook we know and – by the looks of it – hate is. However, my focus was on how useful it could become if the student groups feature were to be developed to suit education’s needs – course and class management, techer-student and student-student communication, resource sharing etc.¬†

    I understand your fears about spending all of our time tweeting or on Facebook. Many people share them. But I think you’re all tricked into establishing a false dichotomy here: it’s either my book or the Facebook. It isn’t, Will. It’s both. It was never a question of either/or but rather one of as-well-as: a social learning platform that supports teachers and learners, not a descent into “frittery” and immediate gratification.¬†Surely you can conceive the possibility that current usage and future usage may differ, can’t you?

    Thank you both and also to Keith and Alex for your engagement and your comments, it’s very much appreciated.

  7. I agree that FB is essentially a commercial enterprise but strongly believe that we will be using a FB for education – probably developed by FB – in a few years time (hopefully).

  8. Hi jose
    Ive been st4uggling with buddypress to try to make it work in a way i think sns can facilitate learning but i cant quite get the mix right. I plan to start an international language learning project using the hobbled together platform if i can find partner schools, and what i learn from that will help me build a more effective system. Im starting a free userinterface design course from stanford in january which is exciting in terms of knowledge and also seeing how the “gurus” deliver elearning.

  9. Ahh – this debate always seems to center around the love/hate of Facebook – are there not more shades of grey here?
    As a Psychology teacher, ‘Social Learning’ has a rather specific meaning, ie learning from others through observation, modelling, imitation and identification. My appropriate use of the online environment should therefore encourage my students to learn this, at the very least, and enable them to maximise what they access for themselves.However, another key aspect is seeing ‘vicarious reinforcement’ – ie seeing others rewarded for a particular behaviour makes us more likely to copy that behaviour. So if I want my students to engage in the online teaching environment, I think it is important to emphasise the rewards for me.¬†¬†¬†Personally I don’t like Facebook much, and do not use it for teaching. For me however, the answer is elsewhere, as I cannot now imagine teaching without Edmodo (am I allowed to advertise here?). Everything I and my students need, in a ‘sealed box’ that I can control, but that also facilitates multi-directional communication.However, I’m also not ashamed to admit that I use it mostly because of the huge benefits to me, rather than to my students.If you never have students who fail to write down their homework, or forgot you gave it to them, or who ‘lose’ that piece of work that got a poor mark; or if you yourself never forget what homework you set, when you set it, and when you wanted it handed in; if you’ve never thought “it would be useful to give my students this ppt/link/article/etc”; and if you’ve never thought “it would be useful if students could ask questions and get answers, even ‘out-of-hours’ when they are revising for external exams” (which we want them to do well in), then I can see that you would not see the benefits of working in an online environment as well as the real one.For me though, being human and not super-human, the online environment enables me to be rather more organised teacher/facilitator, and to shift responsibility for learning back to my students when they say “But I thought it was for Monday, Miss.”If I am being a more organised, and hence better teacher, I would hope that this would also encourage my students to be more organised, ‘better’ learners.

  10. Facebook as an educational medium ‚Äď There is always an interest and debate around it.¬†

    I agree with the fact that most of the traditional learning management systems restrict communication among students. But lately I have seen institutions using wikis, Ning etc to improve the communication within their group (faculty and students).

    While we were building our social learning platform – myklassroom.com , we looked at 3 mains characters for social learning work well.

    1.    Wisdom of the crowds

    a.    Be connected to large group of  diverse set of people (not only your friends).

    b.¬†¬†¬†¬†Matching people with similar interest ‚Äď in other words try to build an interest graph rather than a social graph

    2.    Be the facilitator

    a.    Faculty needs to be a facilitator and help the learner to assimilate the information

    b.    Provide tools of communication & engagement with simulations, social games etc.

    3.    Access to information & people

    a.    A decade ago, information was consolidated and packaged into books or instructional material. Today, the students can acquire Information from varied sources.  They take a piece, add to it, rethink and end up with some pattern that symbolizes the meaning.

    b.    Adapt the content and information to the individual needs.

    Above all I feel the success of any of these platform depends on faculty engagement and motivation.

  11. I totally agree that there seems to be much fear about opening up channels of communication between students on learning platforms. Perhaps I am naive but I think that we may be underestimating students (or unfairly tarring whole groups who would use a tool like this responsibly with the same brush) by feeling like this and would certainly be prepared to trial something like this and see how it worked in practise. I think it could really benefit students provided there were some firm ground rules established before it was used. Persuading my SLT of the benefits of this, however, would be a whole different challenge as they deal with a number of Fb issues during the course of a year and are not fans to say the least. It may possibly not work, but I would certainly be keen to give it a go. 
    Maxine @maxineonelson:twitter  

  12. Right on! My school finally did a Facebook page last year on the School music trip which I was in charge of. It was a great success and all parents were convinced it was a great thing as we posted pictures of their children in real time. So, parents got pinged at work when we did certain things and saw pictures and videos of what was happening. Many said it felt as if they were there and really enjoyed the instantaneousness of it all.

    Since that was a success the School has gone on to using Facebook pages more and more and I am hoping one day soon that they use it for student centre – based learning amongst other platforms… Still trying to get them use to the idea of iPads in lessons! But, small steps in the right direction.

    The problem I am constantly hearing from top brass is that they are concerned about disadvantaging students who do not have Facebook or iPads or mobile devices that have 3 or 4g. Sadly, about 90% of the students have one or all of these things and my feeling is that we are disadvantaging them from reaching their full learning potential. Sort of reverse discrimination if you ask me.

    The only way we can let students use the above resources for their own learning is if the student themselves takes the bull by the horn and does their homework using such ICT. We are not allowed to encourage it when giving an assignment for fear of discrimination, and it seems that the powers that be are weary of a lawsuit coming their way. So, until the day comes that everyone has all these things (or School can supply them to everyone) we can only use ICT in the classroom in a low level transactional way.

    I would really like everyone’s thoughts on this issue and ways to get around it.

    Many thanks,


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