Can social media enhance the MOOC experience?

Researchers say ‘yes,’ but only when taking into consideration 3 key issues.

Though social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are extremely popular for communication and collaboration—even among academics—when applied to online learning, course designers must understand that providing more options for communication without integration is not always best.

This is the main finding of a recent study conducted by academics in Australia that surveyed over 150 participants on their opinions of using social media as part of a 2014 MOOC for educators on designing their own online and blended teaching materials. [More on the detailed methodology can be found in the full report.] The MOOC, called “Carpe Diem” (CD), had just over 1,000 participants, a high level of engagement and completion, and included the use of hosting platform CourseSites’ LMS, as well as Twitter and Facebook for online communication and collaboration.

Outside of the structure LMS, the Facebook group moderators guided participants to ask question about the CD MOOC, seek practical help, communicate and discuss issues around work tasks, and share links to online group work and resources. Twitter was used by both the CD MOOC team and participants to share practical information and resources, while also encouraging participants to share their thoughts.

Using a combination of a survey (completed by 155 MOOC participants) and phone interviews (conducted with 29 of the survey respondents), researchers from The University of Western Australia, Monash University, Swinburne University of Technology, and the Australian Council for Education Research, found that while half of respondents used, and found value in, Facebook and Twitter throughout the MOOC, almost half did not use these platforms and cited specific barriers to use.

Though these MOOC participants are in a very specific age range of 46-year-plus, the lessons learned from trying to include these popular social media platforms within the CD MOOC provided by Swinburne University of Technology, can be applied to other MOOCs, and for diverse students.

3 Lessons Learned

Personal preference matters

According to the study’s findings, 41 percent of interviewees did not use any forms of social media as part of the CD MOOC. One of the main reasons for this was unease at blurring social and professional identities.

“I did not use Twitter or Facebook. Those are social sites. For professional work, I prefer it to be on a professional platform,” noted one participant.

However, for those who did use Facebook and Twitter (approx. 50 percent), a number of participants were not enthusiastic about CourseSite’s formal LMS, since they were more familiar and comfortable using platforms they knew how to use already.

“When designing for MOOCs or online learning, participants’ preferences for social media use should be taken into account,” say researchers. “One solution is to offer a few different platforms, in addition to the LMS, but not require that learners use them if they feel uncomfortable. Alternatively, ask learners to create professional identities on social media for all formal learning and professional development uses.”

(Next page: More MOOC social media considerations)

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