Guest PostFacebook is an Internet phenomenon. It launched to a small group of Harvard students in 2004 and now has millions of users worldwide. Although elearning is popular, it has not had the kind of widespread acceptance with the general public that Facebook has seen. Let’s take a look at a 5 things Facebook can teach us about elearning.

1. Anyone can do it.

One reason people give for not wanting to participate in elearning is that they aren’t good with computers or technology. According to Inside Facebook, Facebook’s fastest growing demographic is women over 55. I’ll never forget the surprise I had when I logged into Facebook and saw that I had a friend request from my mother. MY MOM IS ON FACEBOOK! I was shocked. If she has the ability to create an account, upload pictures, make status updates, and everything else she’s been doing on Facebook, why can’t she take an elearning course?

2. People don’t mind spending time online.

Another complaint I’ve heard about elearning is that people don’t like spending that much time on the computer. If you take a look at Nielsen’s Online Ratings, you’ll see that the average Facebook user spent almost 6 hours on the site in December. If someone can spend 6 hours a month updating their status, viewing photos, and participating in virtual pillow fights, they should be able to spend time participating in elearning.

3. Evolution is critical.

Facebook is constantly changing and improving. They add features that are needed and take away features that people don’t like or don’t use. They change the layout to help improve the user experience, even though everyone doesn’t always agree.  Elearning must take a similar approach for the content and the experience to remain relevant. Elearning must take advantage of the latest technology, make changes based on user feedback, and keep content up to date in order to improve the overall experience.

4. An active facilitator is not necessary.

Elearning proponents often talk about the need for an active facilitator to help create a thriving online community. Facebook blows this theory out of the water. Facebook has an extremely active and constantly growing community without having someone in charge of making sure everyone is participating. However, there is some facilitation programmed into the system. It might make a suggestion about adding a new friend or contacting someone you haven’t messaged in a while, but there is no live person checking to make sure you do these things.

5. It’s not for everyone.

I know I said earlier that anyone can do it, but that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to do it. Even with over 300 million Facebook users, there are still people who just don’t get it. I know several people who have signed up for an account, spent some time looking around, and then never returned. The same applies to elearning. It just doesn’t seem to fit with some people’s learning style.

So, if you are involved in the development of elearning, keep these things in mind. They might help it improve. If you can think of other things that Facebook can teach us about elearning (good or bad) please post them in the comments.

Guest Blogger: Joey Weaver teaches Computer Technology to high school students at Kansas Career & Technology Center in Memphis, TN. He is currently working on a Master’s degree in Instructional Design & Technology at the University of Memphis.

Image courtesy of Befitt at http://www.flickr.com/photos/befitt/3786204929/

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at Viral-Notebook.com. He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

23 Thoughts on “5 things Facebook can teach us about elearning

  1. Joey, can you make any suggestions as to how we make elearning more like Facebook?

  2. Dr. Brian Janz, who teaches at U of M, has been successful in using Facebook with his classes. It would be interesting to hear what he has found to work and not work.

  3. Federico on January 30, 2010 at 2:15 am said:

    I wonder if eLearning can evolve at the same level than Facebook. My main concern is content. Such rapid evolution and continuous change requires a continuous revision of the content. Is this possible? or is rapid development for eLearning producing a decrease on the quality of the content?

  4. With Facebook the evolution is built into the system. The content is provided by users. As long as people are posting pictures, updating their status, and creating other content, it will grow and evolve. Would eLearning be more beneficial and up to date if it is presented in a system where users can post their own content? Accuracy could become an issue, but there could perhaps be a group of experts who validate the content.

  5. Joey, I like the approach you took in showing that if people can do Facebook they should be able to do elearning. One thought I have though is that, probably people like Facebook because it allows them to socialize in a very casual manner, and for some, it allows them to let some steam off. Would it be possible to have the same feel in elearning settings? If so, how do we shift the culture of learning to make it more social in nature? Then, when this is done, how do we set the parameters? I would love to explore how teachers are using Facebook in elearning.

  6. In response to Kristy’s comment, I have indeed been using facebook for over 3 years in my online MBA courses (which deal with technology in organizations). Originally, I incorporated facebook so that students could evaluate social networking as a potential tool for business — marketing, customer intimacy, etc. However, what I quickly learned during those early semesters is that online students really missed the personal/social interaction of the traditional ‘on-ground’ classroom. Consequently, I added the *requirement* that students socialize on facebook, discussing those kinds of things they might chat about before/after classes, i.e., anything but class-related content (seriously, I tell them they can talk about anything but course stuff, which can be discussed on eCourseware).

    I use the private group feature of facebook so that all of our ramblings stay within the confines of the group, and have had classes as large as 80 students (typically in the 30-40 range) use facebook. At the start of the semester I usually prime the pump with a few innocuous discussion threads (favorite restaurants, good movies recently seen, how ’bout them Tigers?, etc.), and then suggest the students create their own threads. I also tell them that I will be looking for at least a couple posts per week from each of them (I end up getting much more from most of them). By the end of the semester, we usually have over one hundred threads going strong.

    As part of the course I also ask the students to write a reflective paper on their Web 2.0 experiences (I have them experiment with wikis, blogs, etc., in addition to facebook), and what I’ve learned is that the vast majority of students really like the facebook component. Even those few students that have some initial trepidation typically come around to liking it. Amazingly, there are still quite a few students (mostly in their early-mid 20’s) with no previous facebook experience. I’m not sure how proud I am that I am the one responsible for their fb baptism 😉 It is not unusual for students to comment that they learned more about their virtual classmates than they ever learned about their in-classroom classmates!

    Will facebook socializing in online education completely replace the richness of face-to-face interaction? Nope, but it does go a long way in bridging the gap.

  7. I really like the idea of using Facebook to enhance elearning. It does seem like a great way to get people more involved and form an active community. So perhaps elearning doesn’t necessarily have to change to be more like Facebook, it just needs to incorporate Facebook itself!

  8. Jeremy on February 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm said:

    I really liked your comments on what lessons Facebook can teach us about elearning. The one thing that I have trouble agreeing with is “An active facilitator is not necessary”. It may be because I work with middle school students (who need loads of direction), but I can not see using Facebook or any other discussion tool for elearning without having an active facilitator. Without an active facilitator how would you ensure that appropriate content is being discussed and/ or learned? Without an active facilitator how do you ensure that all members of an elearning course are participating? Without an active facilitator how do continue to engage learning participants when the discussion gets cold? I think that elearning might be able to take place without an active facilitator, but it would require having the learning content very well matched with a very motivated audience.

  9. Amanda on February 1, 2010 at 8:18 pm said:

    Joey, I was intrigued by your point of an active facilitator is not necessary. My first thought was how do you know learning is taking place without a facilitator? Then I thought of the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”. How do we know that good content learning is not already taking place without a teacher facilitator?

  10. I like how Joey argued that those who use Facebook should have no problems being able participate in elearning, but I know those who hesitate to participate in elearning via Facebook. For many the reason is privacy. First, let me acknowledge, that I know you can create groups and fan pages and have your fans retain some of their privacy. I realize that users do not have to “friend” everyone that makes a general comment to a group or fan page. However, this could open up an avenue for your fellow classmates or elearning companions to ask to be your “friend.” Some would prefer to not have to ignore fellow classmates or risk offending them by ignoring their friend requests. I see Facebook as a social tool that is strictly personal. Many others feel the same. Facebook privacy issues are a hot media topic. For example, the NYTimes.com recently posted an article related to Facebook privacy changes :http://www.nytimes.com/external/readwriteweb/2010/01/20/20readwriteweb-the-3-facebook-settings-every-user-should-c-29287.html?scp=1&sq=facebook%20privacy&st=cse. I think it is important to consider whether your students would want to use Facebook before encouraging its use in the classroom.

  11. Kristy on February 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm said:

    This may stray a bit from Joey’s post, but Stacy brings up a point that I’ve often wondered about. Do students feel as if teachers are crossing some unspoken boundaries by incorporating Facebook into their classes? Do they feel as if they are forced to allow teachers and fellow classmates into their private, social world housed within Facebook? Or has living online become such the norm that the two worlds easily merge?

  12. Joey: I really am one of those occasional users of facebook who only uses it as a social connection to friends who I would like to re-connect. I am a more of what my 14 year old would consider “old school” when it comes to revealing my personal comings and goings. Reading your comments however, gives me a new perspective on facebook and all its possibilities. Maybe I will become a little more “new school” in the future.

  13. Joey: I really am one of those occasional users of facebook who only uses it as a social connection to friends who I would like to re-connect. I am more of what my 14 year old would consider “old school” when it comes to revealing my personal comings and goings. Reading your comments however, gives me a new perspective on facebook and all its possibilities. Maybe I will become a little more “new school” in the future.

  14. Terica on February 5, 2010 at 6:51 am said:

    Joey,
    This article was well written. The alignment of facebook with elearning was quite insightful. Your ending statement was profound. You are absolutely correct, just because one can do it does not mean one is willing. You cited a figure on how if one can spend 6 hours performing various functions on Facebook then they should be able to spend time with elearning. The average individual is on Facebook for recreational purposes, thus the time spent on the site will not seem as time consuming. Elearning is more academic related, so an avid Facebook user may totally dismiss the idea of elearning. You have those who enjoy the “entertaining” side of Facebook, yet they have no desire to engage in any form of elearning.

  15. I don’t use facebook and I haven’t had a class that used it as part of the course. But I am wondering why a teacher would want to use facebook as the means of interacting–socialially or intellectually. It seems that facebook is where people discuss their personal lives, posting daily reports of their status and uploading photos and such. With blog capabilities such as this site, it seems to me that blogging like this would be better. So rather than trying to extend their social exchange space to accommodate learning in a course, why not just use blogs in the courses and leave facebook alone?
    I would love to hear from some of you that have used facebook in your courses. How did you mix the two and did you feel like you were stretching the capabilities and/or purpose of being on facebook?

  16. Rebecca (UU) on March 10, 2010 at 5:01 pm said:

    The only use of Facebook that I have had for a class is for student led groups. It helps only because students my age tend to check the site often. Since we are all so familiar with Facebook, it wasn’t hard to distinguish what was for the class. Even with all of this, if students do not want to get involved in a project, it doesn’t matter how you try to reach them if they aren’t interested. The positives to Facebook is that it is used in a casual manner, and it isn’t something that most are already familiar with. Facebook does prove that people are capable of understand technology (and using it for elearning), if only they are interested and willing to take the time.

  17. Dennis Reggans on March 10, 2010 at 7:25 pm said:

    I believe that everything that is said on this is completely true. I’ve found that once you’re on Facebook it’s almost hard not to not be on it for a long period. I admit I spend more time on there than I should and belive that nearly everyone on it does as well. But the main point is if someone can spend nearly 6 hours on it they can just as easily use use elearning as a tool. The last point that is made is that it’s not for everyone really speaks to a lot of people. Just because everyone else in the world is using it doesn’t mean that you have to use it. If elearning is not for you, you don’t have to use it if it’s not your cup of tea. And another point is there is always room for improvement. If at first you can’t figure something out, you can always take the time to get to know it better and learn to improve your performance on the matter.

  18. Dennis Reggans on March 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm said:

    I believe that everything that is said on this is completely true. I’ve found that once you’re on Facebook it’s almost hard not to not be on it for a long period. I admit I spend more time on there than I should and belive that nearly everyone on it does as well. But the main point is if someone can spend nearly 6 hours on it they can just as easily use use elearning as a tool. The last point that is made is that it’s not for everyone really speaks to a lot of people. Just because everyone else in the world is using it doesn’t mean that you have to use it. If elearning is not for you, you don’t have to use it if it’s not your cup of tea. And another point is there is always room for improvement. If at first you can’t figure something out, you can always take the time to get to know it better and learn to improve your performance on the matter.

    Dennis Reggans (UU)

  19. SanTrell Ellis (UU) on March 11, 2010 at 5:38 am said:

    The top 5 that Facebook could teach eLearning was very interesting but also true. Facebook doesn’t always change things but when it does we get use to it and learn fast from it. If eLearning has something even close to Facebook it would be great for individuals. Once you join facebook it’s hard to get off, people don’t realize how addictive it is until they realized how long they have been on there. If eLearning is easy to understanding and more interesting then it should be just fine.

  20. Heather Y. (UU) on March 15, 2010 at 8:37 am said:

    I think Facebook is more popular than elearning because so many people have it. If we were honest, most of us use facebook to see what other people are doing. It is a social tool. Elearning just needs to be explained more and to a larger audience. If more people knew about it and how to use it, it would probably become more popular.

  21. The above photo is attributed incorrectly. This picture was originally created by me. I designed the T-shirt and took the photo. Please attribute this photo accordingly. http://www.flickr.com/photos/befitt/3786204929/ ** THANK YOU!!! ** (note: SitMonkeySupreme has also been contacted)

  22. @Befitt, if you’re willing to track us down and set us straight, I am willing to fix the attribution. Thanks for letting us know.

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