Integrating Social Media into Online Education

Many people take it on faith that online education must be run through a learning management system (LMS) like Blackboard, Angel, etc. Those systems were originally designed to allow faculty to move their courses online without having to learn HTML coding. They provided all of the tools needed to deliver an online course in one package.

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As online learning grew, so too did the functionality of course management systems. As the systems grew more and more complex, they became more and more fragile, necessitating the new administrative function of instructional designer to manage the systems. Control of distance learning gradually shifted from faculty to administrator as instructional designers started dictating how online courses would look and function.

Now faculty are starting to wrestle control back from administrators through the use of social media such as blogs, wikis, and VoiceThread. These systems can be easily set up by faculty and students to foster interactivity and user generated content that is not possible in course management systems. Best of all, instead of spending hours stocking the modules of a course management system, a faculty member can create a blog in minutes and spend nearly all of his or her time communicating with students.

But few colleges have a social media strategy. The assumption is still that all content must be housed within the LMS. Systems such as Blackboard are adding social media modules like blogs and wikis, but moving them into the locked-down LMS removes the very openness which gives these media value. The better approach is to understand that the LMS is just one tool among many for delivering online learning, and just like a carpenter, use the tool that best suits the job.

Here are some ways to incorporate social media into your course:

  • Faculty members who want to create a hybrid course should use social media systems such as blogs or wikis rather than an LMS. An LMS is good for a fully online course, but requires needless administrative time for a hybrid course.
  • Many faculty are teaching fully online courses though a combination of social media and LMS systems. For instance, Michelle Pacansky-Brock uses Moodle to manage assignments and maintain her gradebook, and Ning to teach her class. Steve Kolowich uses Moodle plus Skype and Elluminate to add interactive elements to his online courses. At Norwich University, I’ve added blogs, wikis and webinars outside of our LMS to provide students with an opportunity to explore issues within the profession that interests them.
  • Schools are starting to attach social media “shells” to their LMS. GoingOn provides blogs and other forms of discussion that exist outside of the classroom to allow collaboration between students across the institution. For instance, all students in a business program can carry on discussions related to business outside of their particular courses. Learning Objects is another system that provides students with a “personal learning space” where they can create a blog, share sites, and collaborate in a variety of ways with like-minded students. It also allows clubs and departments to create Facebook-like sites to share information.
  • Schools are changing to an LMS built on social media principles, such as Drupal. An open source platform, Drupal gives faculty the flexibility to make student blogs the homepage of their course, rather than administrative functions, encouraging collaboration. Better yet, any part of a course can be made public so that students can engage in conversations with other students, faculty, or professionals in the field.

Education is changing, and social media is presenting a world of opportunity to improve learning outcomes.

As usual, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and cries of outrage in the comments section of this blog.

Insidious Pedagogy: How Course Management Systems Impact Teaching

Learning Management Technologies: Enterprise Systems or Consumer Goods?

Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network

The Traditional LMS is Dead: Looking to a Modularized Future



Learning Objects:

John Orlando, PhD, is the program director for the online Master of Science in Business Continuity Management and Master of Science in Information Assurance programs at Norwich University. John develops faculty training in online education and is available for consulting at