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Integrating Social Media into Online Education

By John
Orlando, PhD

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.

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

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.

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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
  • 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

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.




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

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