Continuous improvement and innovations in information communication technologies and growth of online communities have redefined social connections and opened up huge opportunities to revolutionise teaching-learning processes. Social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest have enabled people to connect, share information, collaborate and develop scholastic relationships like never before.
According to a recent study (www.jeffbullas.com), 72 percent of all internet users and a staggering 89 percent of youth in the 18-29 age group are active on social media. Another global trends study by the US-based comScore indicates that the time spent by youth using social media tools has increased by more than 62 percent in one year (2011-12). This means use of the traditional web fell by more than 500 million hours during the same year. A Tata Consultancy Services Gen-Y survey (2012-13) also reveals that youth aided by affordable bandwidth and smart devices are actively collaborating through social networking tools and building virtual communities. About 75 percent of India™s youth prefer social media over phone calls to communicate, with a rising number of students using the net for school-related tasks.
The contribution potential of the internet and social media to education can be easily gauged if we take the following factors into account:
Several research studies estimate that 75 percent of students trust advice from online friends. This is three times the number who trust traditional media. One in every three internet users refers to user-generated content to make education decisions. It has become very easy to collect, collaborate, interact and share valuable information.
Although there™s a massive volume of education information available online, the missing factor is two-way communication. With the rapid multiplication of professional social networking sites, this lacuna has been filled.
Such information is trusted as it emanates from independent sources and not from education institutions with enrolment objectives.
All this indicates that active web and social media users could greatly benefit from learning through social networking. Even conservative academic dons are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of social networking in higher education in particular.
The USP (unique sales proposition) of learning through social networks is two-way interactive communication which engages users, an advantage which e-learning platforms seldom offer. Learning through social media can be course centric as well as informal, without a pre-defined leader or curriculum. Subjects and topics originate organically from learners themselves. For instance, a group of students may get together to study for a test or merely to learn something new and interesting. They can collaborate and get their queries answered by well-informed subject experts ” students, professors as well as working professionals. Many websites and apps offering pre-defined filtering tools eliminate non-credible and non-valuable information and sources from which they originate.
Recently, a large number of social learning portals with a single focus ” to satisfy the learning hunger of youth and facilitate knowledge swapping among the like-minded ” have mushroomed. These portals operate on the premise that ˜everyone is a teacher™ and should share their knowledge with others. The most notable among them are EFL Classroom 2.0 ” a community of English learners and teachers; and Life Pulp ” a social networking website which enriches skills via a great deal of motivational and inspirational content and helps individuals to achieve their goals and better their lives.
Non-commercial education-focused social networks are becoming especially popular within emerging fraternities of students around the world. One of the many factors behind their popularity is they also address the privacy and safety concerns of educators allowing experts as well as non-experts to utilise them freely.
Likewise, responding to a felt need for a parallel network for science and mathematics enthusiasts, Function Space was incepted in 2013. The premise of this portal is that grasping concepts is an interactive process which requires cooperative learning, problem-solving and clarification of doubts by subject experts/peers. Function Space (www.functionspace.org) offers all these and more on a single site. Visitors can browse through thousands of video lectures, books, articles or learn through specially developed learning tools. Queries and questions are answered by students and professors from MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Caltech, Cornell, Berkeley, UCLA, IITs, and IISc, among other prestigious universities worldwide.
To sum up, social networking platforms are serving a ballooning demand to make the web more productive and help in developing 21st century competencies. How best the new generation of digital natives can use social media is up to them. But it™s important to note that the trend of exploring and using social networks for learning is not just a fad that will soon die out, it™s the future.
(Sumit Maniyar is an IIT-Bombay and CFA Institute (USA) alumnus, and co-founder of the Pune-based Function Space)