“Your learning experiences are no longer limited to the physical borders of a college campus,” says Dawn Edmiston, clinical associate professor of marketing at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary, who has taught online courses at several different universities. “Literally the world becomes your classroom, and social media is a great channel for exploring that classroom.”
“The world is now engaging on social media,” says Connie Johnson, provost and chief academic officer at Colorado Technical University, which offers online degrees. “The benefit is that we can reach students through a number of different avenues that they are on anyway.”
[Learn about how online instructors incorporate social media into course curricula.]
Experts say social media can also serve as a way for prospective students to gain knowledge of online programs by asking current students and alumni questions and checking out the latest program updates. Then, to get the most out of their online education experience, students can use different social media platforms in these ways.
1. Create a virtual classroom environment: In many online programs, students aren’t meeting each other in person on a regular basis. Therefore, many of them turn to social media to facilitate interaction, experts say. And even if an online instructor doesn’t openly encourage social media interaction among his or herstudents, online learners can still take the initiative.
Stephen Rapier, an assistant professor of marketing at the Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management who has taught in the online MBA program, says his online students have used private class Facebook groups as a forum for academic as well as casual conversations.
“It kind of supplements the potential loss of not being in the classroom, not having that social aspect,” Rapier says.
In addition, CTU’s online students can follow their program’s Twitter account for relevant announcements and engage directly with the deans, Johnson says, as well as use Facebook to ask questions and share insights.
2. Work with and get to know classmates: Social media can also enable online students to get to know their classmates personally and allow for interaction among smaller groups of learners, such as in a review or study session, experts say.
Katy Ullrich, who recently graduated from the Master of Educational Technology online program offered through Boise State University, says Google Hangouts, which allows users to message and video chat for free, provided an avenue of interaction for her and her classmates, including when she was working with other students.
“Everybody could call in at that particular time and just visit and talk about an assignment,” she says.
[Discover the do’s and don’ts of online group work.]
Jenna Youngs, who completed her online master’s degree in communications through Spring Arbor University this past May, says she connected with other students located around the world in her online classes through Facebook. After “friending” each other, they felt more comfortable messaging each other privately about assignments and class-related matters, she says.
“I could see them more as a person than just some other interaction I had online,” Youngs says. “So I got to see their families, significant moments that had happened to them.”
3. Ask experts and online communities questions in real time: Social media can also allow students to interact with experts in their fields to gain insight into their disciplines and ask questions, says Tanya Joosten, director of eLearning research and development at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.
“Having that accessibility, that access, to experts in your field is just awesome,” says Joosten. “So I encourage students to reach out and take advantage of that. Ask them questions. A majority of them are more than willing to participate in a dialogue.”
Edmiston, of William and Mary, says one of her students once asked a question on a social media marketing group on the professional networking site LinkedIn. She received more than 700 responses in just a few weeks.
“Many folks really want to help – to contribute to a student’s education,” Edmiston says.