“The only “good learning” is that which is in advance of development” (Vygotsky, 1978, p89). According to Ansari et al. (2020), as technological advances increase to accommodate the existing environment, there has been a dramatic shift towards online learning in higher education. This transference has mobilized the way information is processed. Social media has become a significant component in the lives of individuals. Therefore, the integration of social networks into higher education is, naturally, the next step toward progression. Social media allows for increased access to institutions, a collaborative learning framework, and a platform for professional learners to reach their intended clients (Ansari et al., 2020).
The significance of social network platforms in higher education has become evident over the past two years as the world continues to battle the Covid 19 pandemic. The dramatic shift from face-to-face learning to online has made it possible for students to continue with their learning undisrupted (Tessa, 2020). This essay will argue that social media is essential in higher education. Even though opposing views see this integration as a hindrance, this essay will undoubtedly maintain that social media in higher education provides more benefits than burdens.
Social media is vital in higher education because it provides equal access to education, which allows for professional development. According to Cahn et al. (2013); Krutka et al. (2017); Trust et al. (2017) (as cited by Luo et al., 2020), with the incorporation of social media in higher education, many learners that were previously excluded from pursuing professional development as a result of restraints such as location or work commitments, can now benefit from a more mobilized solution. Additionally, due to its vast network, learners worldwide can share their knowledge without considering the distance (Luo et al., 2020). As a result, the collective knowledge brought into the community is so vast and rich that it can only prove to be beneficial for the learner (Luo et al., 2020). It is essential to point out that as opposed to the traditional classroom structure of learning, online education requires fewer resources and has fewer expenses making it more affordable. The result is that more people will have access due to affordability (Tesar 2020).
The second reason supporting the importance of social media in higher education is that it provides the learner with a collaborative, creative, and supportive framework. Such an atmosphere will provide a healthy and rewarding learning environment. Ansari and Khan (2020) conducted an empirical-based study with 360 students that looked at how they perceived the use of social media in collaborative learning. The results showed that there was better interaction between students, peers, and teachers due to the use of social media. It also revealed that students’ participation increased because of sharing knowledge online. This engagement led to better academic results. Additional to their findings was that there were signs of increased creativity amongst the students.
McLoughlin and Lee (2010, as cited in Tess, 2013) used Vygotsky’s (1978) Social Constructivism to explain the need for social media in higher education. Online learning encourages participation from learners; this creates a collaborative environment that fosters support amongst the community. Each learner is responsible for their learning progress. The combination of support and cooperation from peers and teachers will result in more robust academic achievements. Furthermore, on this point, according to Luo et al. (2020), Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory can explain development through learning on social media. The theory postulates that learners model their behaviors according to their observations. With social media, which is an interactive platform, learners can learn with and from each other, thereby providing a collaborative space.
Furthermore, finally, social media is essential in higher education because it can provide a framework for professional learners (medical students) to engage with potential clients, reach their desired audience, and share information with their peers (Harrison et al., 2014). According to Agazio and Buckley (2009); Green and Hope (2010); Schmitt and Lilly (2012), (as cited by Fenwick, 2016), professional presence on social media can reach clients or patients who may traditionally not have access to these professionals. These students can also create peer group communities with other students, both locally and internationally, to discuss challenges and conduct peer consultations. In this way, information can spread faster and more efficiently. Dodsworth et al. (2012, as cited by Fenwick, 2016) also support social media in higher education, reiterating that clients who live in remote areas can now benefit from these professionals due to social networks.
In Fenwick’s (2013) exploratory article, he found that professionals are using social networking sites, such as Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, to name a few, to share information. When these platforms are utilized to disseminate information, professional students can build a community around themselves, significantly benefiting their future practice. As outlined above, the importance of social media in higher education is undeniable.
Although there is substantial evidence to prove that social media in higher education is imperative, there are opposing views that state that the presence of social media in higher education is not necessary and can be detrimental to the learner.
The first argument is that although social media widens accessibility for the students, the shift to online instruction will encounter resistance from the teachers’ perspective. According to Donelan (2015, as cited by Sá, 2020), resistance from the teaching faculty could result from not having the appropriate skills. It is crucial to remember that most senior faculty staff are elder and possibly technologically challenged. Because of this, social media in higher education will meet resistance. Although this may seem like a valid point, Manaca and Ranieri’s (2016, as cited by Sá, 2020) research stresses the importance of ensuring that staff is adequately trained to meet the digital requirements of the current times.
Moreover, Rowan – Kenyon and Martinez Alema’n (2016, as cited by Sá, 2020) state that because today’s learners are already engrossed in social media, having access to this in higher education will influence whether or not learners will enroll at an institution. Although institutions may never be ahead of social media developments, they must embrace the move as this is what today’s learners are looking for. For institutions to remain competitive, including e-learning in tertiary education is imperative (Sá, 2020).
Another opposing argument is that despite the collaborative nature of social media in higher education, it does not encourage debate, which is vital for learning (Tess, 2013). Learners feel pressure to put their work out there for fear of being judged (Sá, 2020). To refute this argument, Madge et al. (2009, as cited by Tess, 2013) conclude on the points above by saying that when social media is combined with academics, there should be a course that teaches learners how to navigate ethically.
Finally, another reason that opposes social media in higher education is that there may be a distortion of the professional identity with the personal identity. There is also the concern that confidential information could be exposed on their social platforms as well as bad behavior on the part of the learner, which could jeopardize their careers once they are qualified (Harrison et al., 2014). Although these may be viewed as valid points, MacDonald et al. (2010) say that social media is here to stay, and thus finding ways to control and regulate its use among medical students is essential. This, however, is the task of the educators and regulators. Harrison et al. (2014) suggest that professional courses be created to teach these learners what is and what is not appropriate for social media.
Misbehaviours of students on social media do not negate the fact that the social platforms have provided learners with endless opportunities for growth and development. As highlighted, these opposing arguments can be easily remedied with education.
The accessibility of social media in higher education is fundamental to the development of learners. It fosters advancements in career development, it rears a positive environment that is pro learning, and it can benefit the community at large because important information can be disseminated. It is, without a doubt, crucial in higher education; therefore, institutions need to ensure that they are equipped to meet this changing environment.
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