The involvement of social media has changed the dimensions of E- Learning. It has introduced a variety of new techniques and software that aim to strengthen the learning success. The use of social media resources support better learning environments in universities by creating active and effective communication.
The recent trends in online social networks initiated by social networking software like Facebook, Google Plus or Skype etc., have encouraged interest in the e-learning research areas.
Such software allow instructors to develop an e-learning environment where better learning facilities can be offered to students. On the other hand, the students can also use these social networking software to enhance their learning engagements and can achieve better learning outcomes even independently without being under the control of their instructors (Jonnavithula & Tretiakov,2012).
Problem or Objective: The present study is aimed to evaluate the impacts of social media on learning. It focuses on the fact that the presence of social media has a potential to promote student-oriented and constructivist learning approach in higher education or university level education. The study will analyze how the use of social media has positively influenced student oriented learning environments in universities. It will also study various characteristics or attributes of social media that can facilitate better learning atmosphere for learners at university levels. The presence of such environments enhances communication between instructors and learners and eventually results in achieving enhanced learning outcomes at both ends.
Importance of the Study: The involvement of social media in learning is something that has changed the way traditional learning used to take place. It has encouraged and promoted better learning environments where “student freedom and teacher control, which is amplified by social media” (Mongkhonvanit, 2012), enhances interaction levels.
This enhanced level of communication leads to a learning environment which is completely student oriented. In such an environment, a student enjoys high levels of communication and interaction, not only with his peers but also with his teachers .These environments promote student constructivist approach that ” refers to learning as the construction of new meanings (knowledge) by the learner him/herself” (Brown, 2005). It directs an atmosphere where “Communities of Practice (COPs) are evolving and beginning to play a significant role in teaching and learning Environments” (Brown, 2005).
This further develops effective and productive use of the social and natural resources that support learning environments. Based upon these views, it becomes important to study those social media parameters that have potentially changed the way of eLearning and have extended its horizon. The present study will review the various aspects of social media and their influence on promoting better learning environments in universities with an aim to analyze its effectiveness on learning.
Significance of the Study: This study is an attempt to analyze the role of social media in developing and creating better learning environments in universities. If the present study would reveal that the involvement of social media has changed the learning environments in today’s competitive world, then this finding will be of major significance to those universities who have still not adopted these latest techniques. These findings will also be useful to draw comparisons between the learning environments that prevailed in universities before the use of social media and after the use of social media. An analysis of both atmospheres can bring forward major advantages of involving social media at university education levels.
The social media and its related services have become an important support to promote teaching, learning and enhance educational cooperation. The social media can be used at both formal and informal learning levels. At a formal level, the educational institutions can adopt social media techniques to promote learning as a part of their organizational structure. However, at an informal level, the educational institutions or instructors can structure educational activities in such a way where the social media gets involved to guide a learning task.
The aim is to involve social media to facilitate “better processes in higher education” (Kurkela, 2011).
The use of social media to facilitate learning and teaching is a new process that has great implications on University education. Many researches also advocate the use of “learning as networked, collaborative and social activity, supported by a range of ICT affordances, including those provided by social software tools” (McLoughlin ; Lee,2008).This type of learning enhances the level of communication, generate knowledge and provide better ideas in the educational fields.
Traditional E-learning systems and their deficiencies
Learning systems follow a traditional approach to e-learning. In a traditional e-learning environment, the system only uses “the online platform for course syllabus releasing, handouts distribution, assignments management, and course discussion to students, teachers”(Du et al., 2013).Such e-learning environments are only designed for course management purpose and involve many limitations. These limitations involve lack of personal control by learners on the learning process ,restricted or very less interaction channel between learners and instructors and limited collaboration scope within courses. Due to these reservations, the traditional e-learning environments are not suitable or competent enough to support e-learning in the new global era of communication and interaction.
The level of interaction in an e-learning educational environment supported by social media software is different as compared to the interaction in the traditional e-learning settings. A basic difference occurs in the use of mediums involved in teaching and learning. The level of interaction gets enhanced in an e-learning environment which is supported by social media software. Such environments offer better communication and improved learning due to the use of social media tools. The level of participation, communication and personal control over course management increases for the learners due to the availability of social media. This is contrary to the traditional e-learning approach where learning is facilitated by the use of internet and other digital tools but the level of interaction is very limited.
Student oriented and Constructivist Approach
A student oriented learning approach refers to an environment which is controlled by the learner himself. It is an environment where the student is responsible for everything. He has control over his course and his study routine etc. His interaction with peers and instructors is promoted by the use of social media tools.
In a teacher centered environment, a teacher has full control and responsibility about the course completion.
However, a student centered approach is contrary to the teacher centered approach. In a student centered environment “the learner accepts the full responsibility for his/her own learning in a learner-centered education paradigm” (Brown, 2005).Here, self-directed learning plays an important role and forms the basis of student centered learning approach.
However, it does not mean that a teacher, in such an environment has no role or responsibility. It is surely the responsibility of an institution or a teacher to ensure that a conducive and an effective learning environment is developed that promotes student oriented learning with the help of the institution.
The student centered approaches developed by the use of social media tools, offer a dynamic and a personal type of learning experience. Such learning experiences create a personal learning environment where social networks are incorporated with personal tools to develop effective learning mechanisms. Under the student centered approach, an individual himself determines as to how he would like to proceed with his learning needs, goals and perceptions. He himself identifies the resources that can support and guide his learning procedures and will formalize his tests and personal beliefs. While doing so, a learner may involve the use of technology like blogs, discussions, forums and other interactive tools in order to offer better and collaborative learning system for himself.
A constructivist approach refers to a system where ” learning is seen as the construction of meanings by the learner “(Brown, 2005).This leads to an environment where learning occurs as a result of experimental learning through real life situations and experiences. This learning approach makes a learner understand many things just by being exposed to the views and experiences shared by people around him. Therefore, this approach also guides towards effective communication that can allow learners to share their experiences with each other.
The use of social media tools support both the student centered and constructivist approaches that allow learners to develop learning environments which are self-directed and self motivated. These approaches permit students or learners to become personally responsible for their learning practices. They also enhance effective communication between learners by sharing their views, experiences and perspectives with each other and direct towards improved learning
outcomes that are a product of shared experiences and views through the use of social media tools.
The tools of social media
The growing emphasis on the community based environments and achieving personalization in every aspect, makes people think about involving the new social software tools to allow them to break from the highly central and reserved learning models. The introduction of social media software in the learning systems can allow people to achieve individual empowerment of learners by following an interactive, collaborative and networked communication approach. The use of “tools like blogs, wikis, media sharing applications and social networking sites are capable of supporting and encouraging informal conversation, dialogue, collaborative content generation and the sharing of knowledge, giving learners access to a wide raft of ideas and representations” (McLoughlin; Lee,2008).
According to a study by Jonnavithula ; Tretiakov(2012), “a social network is a structure formed by people and by connections between people, with the connections enabling interactions and exchange of information and influence”. Such systems assert an environment of learning where learning occurs through learners’ interactions allowing them to negotiate on meanings and understanding of many concepts. These social tools promote learning where people learn by observing and following others in an environment where frequent interactions can take place and are also cost effective.
If all these tools are utilized properly, then they can they have the potential to make student center learning approach a reality, by giving learners more autonomy and high engagement levels through social networks that go beyond the virtual communities dependent on the physical and geographical boundaries. According to McLoughlin & Lee,(2008), the social media tools offer “social features such as sharing, tagging, rating, commenting in e- learning systems”. This can provide new opportunities to develop communication, interaction, collaboration with much more active participation in a learning environment.
The impact of social media tools on learning success.