Facebook and learning

Image courtesy of: interactyx.com

By David DeBrot, LSU

This is David’s article that appeared in Thanh Nien News and Vietweek News on 04/01/2013.

Social media tools such as Facebook are used in advertising, marketing and commerce. But could it also help you with your studies? I think it may.

‘Social media’ is a bit of a misnomer as it seems to conflate being social with using media. We can certainly be social without platforms like Facebook. However, many of us, including students everywhere, use Facebook frequently to find out what other people are doing, saying and liking. We are afraid of missing out on this information or not knowing what many other people know. This is called ‘FOMO’ – Fear of Missing Out.

Sherry Turkle, in this New York Times article and in her book ‘Alone Together’, gives a description of  FOMO as including a nearly constant need to check Facebook posts, twitter feeds and text messages, and once checking them, feeling that what your friends are doing is better than what you are doing.  Does any of this sound familiar?

If it does, it may also indicate why social media like Facebook distracts from your efforts at revising, reading or working on an assignment. Social media and FOMO create distractions for many students trying to study, read or write either in our outside of class (see this article written by a student on some of the ways this occurs). Facebook doesn’t have to be an obstacle to learning, however. It could actually help you.

Learning takes time and space, two things Facebook can reduce when used as a distraction from your studies but can enhance when used to gather information or collaborate on an assignment. And no, I don’t meant collaborating to cheat – that simply isn’t learning. This study from the journal Computers in Human Behavior indicates that using Facebook mostly for chatting or updating statuses was connected to a lower GPA, while using Facebook as an information gathering tool or ‘discovery engine’ was connected to a higher GPA.

Students can benefit by ignoring Facebook when reading, writing and revising, and by using it to aid their learning in group projects and discussion. Group work, collaboration and communication could all be supported by using Facebook. I’m aware this may not happen much and that’s why I’ve written this article. For example, have you ever used Facebook in these ways to support your studies? I can hear many of you saying ‘no’.

Facebook can act as a distraction and take up the amount of mental energy and time we devote to it – this is sometimes called ‘mindshare’. Mindshare is limited and in his book ‘Enough’, John Naish makes a convincing point  that we can become buried in information because when we don’t understand the information we’re given, we want more of it.  Similarly, when we learn, we have competition from many sources for this mindshare, and if we are time poor because of an onslaught of information from the likes of Facebook, then this competition intensifies. Students using Facebook then have to be discerning with their use of time in order not to get buried in the information they do have. Students can use Facebook as a distraction, or let what distracts them also make them more productive and effective in their learning by gathering information that could clarify concepts or problems, further their understanding, and help them to evaluate existing ideas and create new.

So, here’s what students can do to achieve this:

  • Log out of Facebook when reading or writing at home – this will help you resist the urge to update your status or chat.
  • Schedule in time for status updates and chatting on Facebook if you are good at self-discipline
  • If you’re not good with self-discipline, then go to a local coffee shop or place on campus where you don’t have access to the internet (this may mean turning off your 3G)
  • In an informal study group or formal group for an assignment, use Facebook to keep each other updated with useful information on the class topics, readings or assignments through the chat feature or messaging
  • Set up a page specifically for an area of study, subject or assignment you are working on and use this page to communicate with others and gather useful information
  • Use Facebook to help your studies – form a page for your class/study group and use it to share, discuss and collaborate (as appropriate for the assessments and subject)
  • Check out a great post from the Techknowtools blog here with more information on using Facebook groups and pages for learning

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2 responses to “Facebook and learning”

  1. Stephen McGrath says :

    I’m about to start studying again, and Facebook will become a tool during that time. Presently, it’s a toy.

    My plan is to use it for surveying opinion and generating discussion relating to my course content.
    Granted, this will probably annoy many of my FB friends no end, but I see it as revenge for all the years they annoyed me with gaming requests and irrelevant micro-facts.

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