March 16, 2023

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media in Learning Environments

by Chelsea Watts, PharmD , PGY1 Community Pharmacy Resident, Mississippi State Department of Health

Social media has had a significant impact on our society. In January 2023, there were 4.76 billion social media users.  That’s nearly 60% of the total global population.1 Regardless of individual socio-demographics, nearly everyone is connected through social media. Social media platforms allow users to create and share ideas with people from all walks of life through photo and video sharing, blog postings, short-form communications, and more. Although social media was not created for educational purposes, it has infiltrated learning environments and this has led to research to determine the positive and negative aspects of social media use.

BetterYou, a digital wellness platform, identified five areas of a student’s life affected, in some cases positively but also negatively, by social media:2 

  • Social well-being:  The fear of missing out (FOMO) and setting unrealistic life goals can create social isolation.
  • Emotional well-being:  Seeking validation through likes and peer approval creates a mental strain on students to meet certain expectations.  
  • Academic well-being:  Social media is a major distraction and can lead to poor academic performance. Another cause is lack of sleep due to late-night browsing.
  • Peer connection:  Students can stay in touch with their support system and build relationships with people who share common interests.  
  • Spreading the word: The latest news or announcements can be shared on a larger scale.  

The use of social media can negatively affect students’ social, emotional, and academic well-being, whereas connection with peers and communication about professionally related opportunities might be advantageous.

Networking is a key component of professional development. There are many avenues available to network. Building a successful network includes meeting people in different settings, even virtually. Social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, allow students to create digital portfolios and share them with peers, potential employers, and others they may not have the opportunity to interact with in person. I believe it is important to equate engagement with connections. For example, if I create a post on Facebook or Twitter about a professionally related topic, the engagement (likes, comments, and reshares) I receive may reach someone with a similar interest.

One drawback to social media engagement is echo chambers. Most social media feeds conform to the user’s perspectives and beliefs, which limits interactions from those with opposing opinions. Students should be encouraged to apply critical thinking skills in their social media use. Questioning the information, confirming sources, and analyzing for bias are ways students can learn how to use social media platforms thoughtfully and maximize their engagement.

Improving students’ communication skills is another potential advantage of using social media. On many platforms, a user is limited by a maximum word (or character) count. Twitter, for example, has a 280-character limit for each “tweet.” Therefore, the user must be precise with their word choices in order to communicate their ideas effectively and coherently. To develop this skill, teachers could create an assignment requiring students to develop thoughtful responses to a question prompt or case scenario. The students would formulate their responses as a “tweet”. After creating the post, students can interact with other peers’ responses. This skill can be transferred to written communication skills in a professional setting. One study that examined the impact of Facebook on undergraduate students’ writing skills found that active participation in online discussions improved the content and organization of their written communications.3 The authors also concluded that the social media platform enabled students to learn in a stress-free environment and from peers through collaborative learning.3 

Although there are some advantages to using social media in higher education, educators must be aware of the negative effects of social media. Students can become easily distracted and excessive social media use can have a negative impact on student’s mental health. Distractions created by social media can be classified as internal or external cues.4 Mind wandering to social media platforms when completing learning assignments or tasks is considered an internal distraction.4 External factors come from the environment. An example of an external factor is receiving a social media notification that inclines the student to stop the task.

There is  a growing concern for students’ mental well-being because social media has deviated from its initial purpose of bringing users together. The authors of a study published in 2021 concluded that emotional investment in social media is correlated with a significant increase in anxiety and depression in university students.5 The emotional attachment can lead to disappointment due to the desire to acquire materialistic things and unrealistic lifestyles. It is, therefore, important for students and educators to use social media platforms with intention. Being intentional includes restricting in-class use for educational purposes, setting a goal before each use, and creating an allotted time spent on social media.

I believe the advantages of social media use in learning environments outweigh the disadvantages. When used properly, social media can facilitate professional networking and improve communication skills. Since social media platforms have an enormous impact on daily life, using these platforms in educationally oriented and intentional ways would be beneficial for students.

References:

  1. Global Social Media Statistics - DataReportal – global digital insights [Internet]. DataReportal. [cited 2023Feb14].
  2. Zwart H. Effect of social media on college students. BetterYou. [cited 2023Feb14].
  3. Shahzadi A, Kausar G. Using Social Media to Improve Students’ English Writing Skills: A Mixed Method Study. J Res Social Sci 2020; 8(1):124-140
  4. Koessmeier C, B├╝ttner OB. Why are we distracted by social media? distraction situations and strategies, reasons for distraction, and individual differences. Frontiers in Psychology. 2021;12:Article 711416.
  5. Alsunni AA, Latif R. Higher emotional investment in social media is related to anxiety and depression in university students. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences. 2021;16(2):247–52. 

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