Can Social Media be taught?

I have been on the periphery of a few conversations and discussions about the use of social media both for teaching and learning and about use of social media more formally in training and learning. Some partly alluded to in this post.

I am generally of the mind that use of  social media are best considered broadly within communication skills and that there may be some forms of guidance that can be offered, mostly in terms of modelling behaviours, it isn’t a subject that either can or should be taught as a distinct subject matter.

These are my reasons

1) We are still at the early stages of knowing, learning and understanding the possibilities, format and etiquette of interactions which take place online. By ‘teaching’ we codify a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way where the right and wrong should merely be an extension of what we consider to be ethical practice and conduct in all spheres of life and communication.

2) We are confusing the tools and the medium for the content. Platforms come and go – from Usenet, bulletin boards, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs – the media can, does and will change. Teaching someone the basic IT skills to set up a WordPress blog is one thing and can be enormously helpful but teaching them what they should or should not put on it?

I think that’s better left to the community around them. Yes, mistakes will be made but that’s how learning grows. If someone doesn’t realise that disclosing details of a visit on their own blog is counter to professional codes of ethics, it isn’t because they don’t ‘get’ social media, it’s because they don’t ‘get’ professional codes of confidentiality.

3) Identifying self-appointed ‘experts’ who do the ‘teaching’ is a tricky area. What makes someone an ‘expert’ in social media? Is it someone with 5,000 followers on Twitter? Numbers are meaningless – followers can be bought and it’s more important who those followers are. Is an expert someone with a blog that has a following? Well, they might be an expert in writing a particular blog about a particular subject but I don’t think that gives them an authority globally. Or is it an academic that has written extensively on and about social media?Perhaps but it is a sector where the learning by doing is particularly prominent.

Learning about the theory of social networks is fascinating but does it help with the practical implementation? And what is ‘good use’ of social media anyway? Building a supportive network of people who think in the same way? Extending ideas and focus of knowledge? Learning about new research? We have different and fluid outcomes that are personal and individual – so how can a syllabus capture that? I’m not sure. Should it try? That’s a really key question.  If there’s one area that self-directed learning and understanding really should flourish, I suspect it may well be this area.

4) Social Media is about building relationships and trust. No one can teach you to be authentic if you aren’t. No one can build an authority for you. You live or die on the content, information and relationships you build.

5) I worry that by creating a culture of ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ we are imposing a hierarchy of a system of ‘people who know’ and ‘people who don’t’ into an area that thrives particularly because it is able to break things down.

So how do we learn and ensure that people learn to use these networks safely?

I say by relying on just diving in and perhaps modelling some behaviour around ‘mentors’ – asking and helping as we go. Perhaps when we see people new to these networks we all take a responsibility to offer suggestions and advice.  When I helped someone set up their facebook account, I went straight into the privacy settings with them and explained them.

Sometimes people need to be guided around the etiquette within different networks and forums and a gentle guiding hand can be useful.

My worry is that more formal teaching/learning will lose the instinctive learning-by-doing and learning-by-experimenting which have led to some amazing opportunities.

I’d be really interested in the views of others about this though. After all, we are all still learning. I don’t have the answers and I am willing to be swayed on this as it’s based pretty much on my own experiences and thoughts. So please do feel free to persuade me otherwise!

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11 responses to “Can Social Media be taught?

  1. david mckendrick

    very interestintial to support learning and teaching and timely post. As an educator I encourage the use of socal media. However I am also a learner, as I believe we all are. So social media facilitates t is decreasing.learning. It has some unique strengths here; although there is a “digital divide” I believe it is decreasing. That is not to say it no longer exists, but there does appear efforts to increase internet usage. I am interested in the shift from using social media for “social” purposes to the shift to using it for “learning” I agree that we need to proceed with caution. SM offers an unregulated space it should not be compromised but rather we should seek to use it to its full potetnial. The lack of cencorship is a unique feature of SM and the freedom to express one’s opinion is an attractive feature, any reduction in this is a reduction in one of the most fundamentally attractive aspects of the medium. SM offers an opportunity to redifne the teacher / learner dynamic and provides a space where new networks can be established and curated.

  2. Social media is fascinating and I agree with Ermintrude2’s thinking. It is not something that can or should be “taught” – certainly not in any formal way. It is wonderfully organic and democratic. Everyone can use it in their own way – social, sharing, learning… there is no “right” or “wrong” way.
    If you have followers / friends / LinkedIn contacts, presumably they like what you are saying. If you have the sort of followers you are seeking, then presumably you are engaging in the way that you desire. Informal mentors are the best way of learning – either people who specifically help and guide you or just people that you admire and learn from – either consciously or unconsciously .
    There is an amazing freedom and flexibility – where else can you send a powerful message direct to the powers that be, judged on its own merits, regardless of your position or any formal role?
    The social media “experts” are “experts by experience”, not appointed or singled out. It is lovely to see new people dipping their toes in the social media waters – let’s just support them to enjoy themselves rather than immediately signing them up for swimming lessons – or, worse still, didactic, classroom-based theory-of-swimming lessons. 🙂

  3. Thank you for this thought provoking post Ermintrude. I recently took part in an NHS webinar about using Twitter. It made me reflect that there are some technical things out there (such as the use of hashtags) which can be useful to be taught. However, I have personally learnt most about social through following other people and seeing how they do it. I really like your idea of mentoring and I guess this is a similar notion to social media surgeries – people who know a bit more helping people who know a bit less. I also agree that it is important to remember that social media are just different communication tools and the same rules apply whatever the media both on or offline (for example, respect, listening, honesty etc.).

    I personally feel a bit perturbed by the proliferation of blogs about how to exploit Twitter or other social media for competitive commercial advantage in a corporate account. For me it detracts from the joy of social media: the informal, conversational, ephemeral, silly, thought provoking and diversity of views and ideas, relationships and provocations. It encroaches on the co-productive amateur aspect of much social media and takes the heart out of it in my view.

    However, I do think using social media as a learning tool is very valuable. My daughter is 13 and it just makes sense to me to engage her using the media she is comfortable with. Helping her and her friends to learn about social responsibility and behaviours both online and offline is incredibly important too.

    Anyway, I hope this makes some sort of sense. Just realised I’ve ended up in a bit of a ramble… Victoria 🙂

  4. Pingback: Can Social Media be taught? | Connecting Social Care and Social ... | Social Media in Education, a new approach | Scoop.it

  5. In my humble opinion, the entire concept of teaching social media is like getting a degree in public relations, communications or marketing. There’s no right or wrong answers, or any promise that a top student will be a successful practitioner but it’s important to understand the structure, tools, psychology, etc behind the art so as to strengthen one’s strategies. As for communication, sincerity can’t be taught, but basic principals can be learnt. Dale Carnigie’s is a great example of someone who teaches persuasive communication that can be easily applied to social media. What are your thoughts?

  6. I read this post with interest. I’ve just been asked do “teach” a local Rotarian group about social media. My first reaction was there’s not much to teach really you just need to get on there! I think at the moment, we’re still applying old fashioned attitudes to a very new form of communicating

  7. ermintrude2

    Thanks all for the fantastic comments. They really add to the post and I’m still trying to find my own thoughts and feelings about the issue!

  8. Pingback: Can Social Media be taught? | Social Work and Social Media | Scoop.it

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  10. Pingback: Reflections on social workers & social media: Part 1. | Learning Designs

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