We live in a world of unprecedented ease of communication. With a click of a mouse, we can be in contact almost instantly with any one of millions of people worldwide. This connectivity through social media can have profound benefits–and some impediments–to education.
Social media systems, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, can form a useful bridge between students and knowledge. Education no longer requires the physical presence of an instructor. Entire university courses are taught via chat rooms and bulletin boards. Students can interact with educators, and each other, without ever leaving their homes.
These tools are invaluable resources for people whom a traditional classroom education is difficult or impossible. A single parent working a job and caring for a family might not have the time to attend classes in-person, but could study from home via social media. A student who might not be able to afford room and board at a traditional college could learn more cost-effectively via a school with a digital infrastructure.
Social media provides access to information previously difficult to reach. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, entire courses of study are available free to all learners via videos posted on the Internet. Anyone who wishes to learn need simply connect to the videos to receive the teachings of MIT’s famed faculty. Social media can also put learners in contact with educators they previously had no access to. In the past, it would have been almost impossible for the average student to ask questions directly of leading scientists and experts. Now, many such educators make themselves freely available on social media.
Social media also brings events and discoveries directly to the student, bypassing the education system altogether. Someone interested in learning of life in a foreign land can connect directly with the people living there. World events unfold directly before our eyes, with the stories told by the people living them brought instantly to our screens.
While that instant information might be useful, it does bring up one potential detriment to social media’s impact on education. When this raw information is channeled directly to the learner, it is important for the student to weigh what he or she is learning against the quality of its source. One must understand the biases of sources and be able to judge the legitimacy of the source and its information.
Ordinarily, information learned through schools has been vetted by teams of experts. Scientific results receive peer reviews, and traditional educators strive to show the multiple interpretations of controversial subjects. Learning directly from ongoing events via social media can leave us without these filters. For example, the recent surge in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children against diseases was spurred on by inaccurate social media interpretations of scientific research. We have a tendency to respond more to anecdotal information than vetted data, and reliance on social media can feed this tendency. With so many voices clamoring for our attention online, it can be hard to pick the ones we should listen to.
Overall, social media has been a boon to education. It has unlocked knowledge to the masses, brought people together who might otherwise never connect and given us a greater understanding of the world beyond our horizons. But, like any tool, it must be used with caution and with a critical eye towards the motivations of the sources we use.
Blog By John Cleary