Facebook for MOOCs: A Bridge for Student Learning

Facebook-Groups-e1291281035929I’ve long believed that Facebook is one of the most effective platforms for student discussion and collaboration within Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online course formats. Facebook is a virtual meeting place that encourages authentic interaction, sharing and collaboration. I’ve found that closed Facebook groups, created for a specific course, generate more discussion, exchanges and sharing among a greater number of students than any forum within a MOOC platform.

A recent study, The Role of Social Media in MOOCs presented at the annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale, validates Facebook’s effectiveness for student engagement. Researchers conducted a study using three MOOCs on Coursera’s platform comparing students use of Facebook groups to discussion forums within the Coursera site (Zheng et al. 2016). They found that students were more engaged in Facebook groups than within the MOOC discussion forums (see figure 1 below), and engaged for longer periods on the Facebook site, even after the course ended. Students also admitted they preferred interacting on social media due to its immediacy—the quicker response times to questions and posts, as well as the less chaotic environment. Quite compelling is the fact that students stated Facebook gave them a “sense of community” (pg. 423).

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“The Role of Social Media In MOOCs: How to Use Social Media to Enhance Retention”.  Proceeding of the Third (2016) ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale, pages 419-428.

Why is this so? I suggest two reasons. First, because Facebook is the most used social networking site globally, for a variety of reasons—its low barrier to participation, and ease of use (Pew Research, 2014). Given the numbers of people who use Facebook across nations, more students are familiar with Facebook than any other tool or feature within the MOOC platform, so it’s no wonder they are more likely and willing to engage with their peers. Below are some telling comments from students of the study that indicate why Facebook preferred over the MOOC platform.

“Sometimes, I actually want to reply or make some updates
on Coursera, but when I think I need to login on my
computer, I postponed doing it and then I forgot to do it later.”
“I frequently forget my password or account name. I know this is stupid, but it happens frequently not just on me but on many of my friends!”

Second,  Facebook creates a sense of community. Learners are able to establish a sense of presence, they have a sense of being there and being together. Students can see who they are interacting with—a real person. Facebook is transparent, unlike MOOC platforms where students can sign up and create any user name not linked to their identify and post in forums anonymously.  Interaction within MOOC platforms feels like one is communicating in a vacuum.  This transparency fosters a sense of presence and trust, aligning with the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. The CoI model is a theoretical framework that outlines a process for creating deep and meaningful online learning experiences. It’s based on three interdependent dimensions of presence–social, cognitive and teaching presence (Garrison Anderson & Archer, 2000).

Social presence is the ability of participants to identify within a community, in order to communicate in a trusted environment, where learners can develop personal relationships by projecting their individual personalities (Rourke et al., 2001). With its transparency, ease of use, and low barriers to participation, Facebook embodies this concept of social presence, enables students to engage socially leading to dialogue and collaboration.

COI-ANIMsmall
Community of Inquiry Model, Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000)

How It Works
Facebook groups can be created by the instructor or institution administrators as a closed group where students request to join. Though in MOOCs, students often take the initiative and create a group for course participants, opening up the group well before the course begins. Frequently participants will create smaller groups for those interested in specific course-related topic areas; they find one another via the interaction and dialogue. For further info see Group Basics on Facebook.

Conclusion
The study’s findings have tremendous implications for online educators and institutions. If students in online learning environments are more likely to engage with class peers on social platforms, like Facebook, it’s well worth our time to examine further how we can thoughtfully integrate social media to engage students and deepen their learning experience.

References