Convinced social media is right for your online course? Here are a few ways to put it to use.
Social media isn’t for every course. But used effectively, it can be a creative way to engage with your online learners. That said, not every social media platform works the same way, and your first step in determining if it’s right for you probably involves a closer look at the options available. Here’s a quick guide through the top six social networks, and how you can use them as part of your online course.
Facebook is the largest social network in the world, and the one your learners are most likely to use on a daily basis. For this reason, it’s an excellent place to start if you want to host a knowledge-sharing/discussion spot where your learners are most likely to see it. There are two ways to go about doing this, and the one you choose will depend on your goals. They are:
- Create a course page.
Facebook pages are public by default, although they do have some privacy settings. They also include admin controls, so that only authorized individuals can make posts. For some educators, course pages are perhaps better viewed as marketing opportunities, or as a way for learners to stay connected to the course content, if not to each other.
- Create a course group.
Facebook groups can be public or private, but a private group (invite only) group is probably best for your purposes, because this allows you to limit the group to only those who are taking/have taken your course. The advantage of a group is that anyone can post to it, allowing for more user-generated content.
For career-focused learners, LinkedIn can be a way for them to polish their professional credentials while they take your course. You can encourage learners to publish short, weekly articles about what they’re learning in your course, and share any comments or feedback they receive from their network. And because the purpose of LinkedIn is to promote professional qualifications, most users feel less hesitant about connecting with others on this platform.
Like Facebook, LinkedIn also has a groups option, albeit one that’s been buried in its latest design reiteration. It also has options for business pages, but the types of posts that can be made by these are limited. If your course group is likely to spend time on LinkedIn, or if you make regular publishing a project, it will make more sense to launch a group here than on Facebook.
This is the social network with the most obvious use for many online educators, many of whom distribute their course material via the video platform. If you plan to make course videos for yourself—or ask your learners to make them—YouTube is a natural choice. Plus, you can easily distribute video content make on YouTube to their platforms.
YouTube videos are platform agnostic. Share them, tweet them, pin them. You can post them almost anywhere, including on your LMS, and your learners can do the same. So, you could ask them to film a short presentation on a subject, and then post it to your course forum. They gain speaking experience, and your learners can learn from the content they present.
Probably the easiest way to use Twitter in your online course is as a simple networking tool. If you enjoy using Twitter as a platform, tweeting often and encouraging your learners to follow you and comment on or reply to your tweets is a simple way to build discussions. The pedagogical uses are limited, but it’s also easier to get started, and it could even help market your course.
Another lesser known feature of Twitter is its lists. They’re a little hard to find, but if you go to your profile page, select “lists” from the navigation bar below your header photo. This will show you lists that you’re subscribed to—and also lists you’re a member of. If you look to the right-hand side of your screen, you can see a button that reads “Create new list.” At that point, you can add other Twitter users to your list, and anyone who subscribes to your list will see tweets from the members of that list. You can also find other people’s lists (both those they’ve created and those they’re a part of) if you go to the lists section of their profile.
This may all seem a little confusing, but it has some valuable ramifications for online learning. For instance, you could create a list of everyone who’s in your course, and suggest your learners subscribe to it so that they can see each other’s tweets. Or, you could create lists of influential people in your subject area, and suggest your learners subscribe to it to keep up with industry news.
Want your learners to create vision boards for certain course concepts? Brainstorm for ideas? Save inspirational ideas for a project? Pinterest is just the way to do it.
The idea behind Pinterest is that users can create “boards” around a theme, and then “pin” ideas or images that are relevant. So if you have a Pinterest board dedicated to a course, or to particular themes within your course, your learners can review your board and choose items to pin to their own.
As an example, if you’re teaching a graphic design course for websites, you might spend one module talking about visual hierarchy (using headers, fonts and other design elements to direct a visitor’s attention), and create a Pinterest board showing examples of websites that use good hierarchy in their design. You might have another module on web typography, and have a board dedicated to good examples of web fonts. Meanwhile, one of your learners could create a board titled “Landing page design,” and use pins from both your visual hierarchy and typography board as inspiration.
Image-based and with a newsfeed more tailored to user interests, Instagram can be an odd choice for educators. Your learners can follow you, but they’ll mostly see your posts in a stream of everyone else they follow. And while they can like and comment on your posts, sharing those posts on Instagram—to individuals or to groups—is a little more clunky than on other platforms.
Still, there are effective ways to incorporate Instagram into an online course. If your learners are learning some kind of craft, Instagram is an easy way to share pictures of their progress. Or they can use it to share course-related images that they’ve spotted from their daily lives. (E.g., examples of economics at work, or of effective advertising.)
You don’t need social media to run an effective online course.
Social media is becoming an increasingly popular medium for online educators. But, if the above options see overwhelming (and they might), remember that you don’t have to use any of them. Or if you do want to use them, they don’t have to be a core part of your course.
Social media works best as a compliment to your course—a way to connect with your learners outside the pre-developed aspects of your course. These interactions help learners stay engaged, and provide another avenue of contact with you. But there’s no need to force them into your course if they don’t make sense, or if you don’t want to manage another communication platform.