SIP TEL Innovation Report 3: The Impact of Social Media and Personal
Technologies on the Future of TEL
This briefing paper is the third in the series planned for the TEL SIP project. The intention for
all of them was to explore the current landscape relating to current issues and innovations
in Technology Enhanced Learning, based primarily on the resources and information
provided by Jisc Advance.
The first two papers covered Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Massive Open Online
Courses (MOOCs). This final paper looks at the impact on education of the growth in the use
of social media and personal technologies. It draws from recent research and surveys in
Australia, the US and from Jisc Advance in the UK.
1. Trends in Social Media
Some initial comments:
For the purposes of this paper, the term Social Media refers to the use of social media
networking websites such as Facebook1
. It also refers to
Blogging, online social forum websites such as Google Groups5
, and the use of networked
personal picture and video sharing websites such as Flickr6
Perhaps the most important characteristic of Social Media that needs to be acknowledged
when beginning a discussion about trends and the future landscape is the volatility in the
developer and user communities. New applications are being launched on a regular basis,
typically by bright new graduates from Stanford, with innovative and attractive features not
provided by their predecessors.
Teenagers, in particular, experiment with the new applications, they network with their
friends about them online and, if the consensus is that this is really cool, they flock to them
like butterflies. The applications become the new social online arenas where they can be
cool with their friends.
The consequence, of course, is that the previously favoured social media applications are no
longer so cool and their use declines. Unless reinvented with the new features, they will
rapidly become obsolete. Van Grove9
comments on the pathology of Facebook in this
context. Although it currently remains head and shoulders above any other social media
with regard to parental ability to view their children’s’ messages, and the fact that it is not
cool to have your grandparents in your Facebook friends list.
This of course has been recognised by the established market leaders and may have been
the motivation, for example, for the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook as a way of
retaining the younger users, even though the business case and future income streams from
their investment may not be immediately clear. Other major players have also made similar
acquisitions over the years either to integrate and exploit the benefits of the new innovation
or to kill them off as competitors.
Current trends in social media:
The information provided here is drawn predominantly from the Yellow Social Media
. The report details an extensive research exercise carried out across Australia, but
the data and conclusions are regarded as generally indicative of current trends in social
The first message is that overall there is nearly 100% usage of the Internet in one form or
the other by the whole population. This ranges from standard desktop PC usage, the use of
wireless laptops and tablet computers, through to the use of smart phones, iphones,
android devices and other personal communications equipment. Many people have
multiple access through their home PCs, mobile laptops/tablets and, frequently, through the
use of more than one mobile phone.
The second message is that, of these users, 65% have a presence on one or more social
media websites and that of these, 45% use social networking at least once per day. This
daily usage goes up to 75% for teenagers and those in their 20’s.
Social Media Usage (Yellow Social Media Report)
Currently Facebook dominates with 95% of social media users having an account. However,
use of all the other applications, including LinkedIn (20%), Instagram (16%), Twitter (15%)
and Google+ (15%) has been growing year on year.
The volatility of social media usage is illustrated through an examination of statistics relating
to Twitter. Although usage has grown from 8% in 2011 to 15% in 2013, the majority (54%) of
account holders reported tweeting less than once per week or not at all. Also, 12% of social
media users have reported they have decided no longer use some sites over the last year. Of
these, 45% have stopped using Twitter. It is possible that Twitter will respond to this by
morphing into another format as new trends emerge, perhaps by taking on the time-limited
characteristics of snapchat11
It is interesting to note that the main reason given by the 35% of Internet users that don’t
use social media is lack of interest or appeal. Only 10% of that group indicated lack of IT
skills as a reason.
To conclude this section, the image below from Edudemic12
provides a useful pictorial
account of how social media has developed over the years. It encourages reflection on
those applications that have endured and those that have fallen by the wayside.
2. The Impact of Social Media on TEL
The Yellow Report referenced above drew information about social media trends from a
detailed survey across Australia. An equally detailed annual survey by Pearson13
useful information about how social media is being used by higher education institutions in
the United States.
The overall awareness profile for academic staff of popular social media sites was reported
in 2011 as shown in the diagram below. Clearly, awareness is generally high, although the
relatively low rating for SlideShare indicates that its potential value for educational use,
which I believe to be significant in the context of resource sharing, has not been recognised.
Awareness of social media sites by academic staff
The volatile use of social media is shown in the 2012 Pearson Report14
which shows that the
professional (non-teaching) use by academics of LinkedIn has overtaken their use of
Facebook compared with 2011. LinkedIn has become influential through its special interest
groups discussing academic research and hence has a more professional focus than
Trends in the professional use of social media by academics 2011-2012
Online video use is reported as being the most used media in teaching. Wikis and Blogs are
reported to be the most used social media tools for teaching. This demonstrates that
academics regard Wikis, as online spaces to share information and resources, and Blogs, as
online narratives of thoughts and activities, as valuable ways of supporting learning. The
comparison is shown below.
Comparison of personal, professional and teaching use of social media
It is the younger academics that take the lead in social media adoption and it varies across
the curriculum areas with Humanities and Arts to the fore and Computing, perhaps
surprisingly, 14 percentage points behind.
Videos are frequently used by academics in their teaching (88% according to Pearson), with
the most popular online source being YouTube. Increasingly, with widespread access to
smartphones, tablets and webcams, academics are creating their own teaching resources
and students are using video to record their learning. Apart from YouTube, videos are being
posted for general viewing to blogs, wikis and through other social media sites such as
A final message from the Pearson report that is worth sharing relates to the barriers seen by
academics to the use of social media. The response ‘social media takes too much time to
learn and use’ dropped from 60% in 2011 to 40% in 2012. The report concluded that this
meant that the perceived value of social media in teaching had increased, in just one year,
by the same proportion.
These trends and conclusions are largely reflected in the Jisc 2012 ETNA report15
indicates that the most popular social media sites are YouTube and Blogs.
3. Trends in Personal Technologies
The Yellow Report statistics16
show that smartphones were the most popular device with
which to access social media. In the past year (2012-2013), the number of social users
accessing sites on their smartphone has grown from 53% to 67%, while those accessing it on
a laptop dropped from 69% last year to 64% this year. Using a desktop computer to access
social media also fell from 54% last year to 46% this year. Tablet usage also grew strongly
from 18% last year to 35% this year. Mobile devices were the most popular in every age
category under 50, with desktop computers still being the main device for social media for
those aged over 50.
Gartner identifies cloud computing and ‘the personal cloud’ amongst the 10 top strategic
technology trends for 201317
. Their analysis is worth quoting:
The personal cloud will gradually replace the PC as the location where individuals keep their
personal content, access their services and personal preferences and centre their digital lives.
It will be the glue that connects the web of devices they choose to use during different
aspects of their daily lives. The personal cloud will entail the unique collection of services,
Web destinations and connectivity that will become the home of their computing and
communication activities. Users will see it as a portable, always-available place where they
go for all their digital needs.
There can be no doubt that this reflects the general trend. There can be few academics who
do not have a PC at work and also at home, who do not have at least one mobile phone and
who probably have an iPad/tablet device or a laptop/notebook computer, or both. Wireless
communication is ubiquitous and is the means of linking them together as well as accessing
Students are less likely to have a PC, but will certainly have a smartphone and either a
laptop or a tablet device and will be online and socially communicating a lot of the time.
4. The Impact of Personal Technologies on TEL
The use of personal technologies and the likely future of cloud computing in the context of
TEL are covered in a series of InfoKits published by Jisc InfoNet. Of particular relevance is the
Mobile Learning InfoKit18
which provides a detailed overview of current practice and draws
from the recently published Emerging Practice in a Digital Age guide19
from Jisc. The other
InfoKits cover Technology Trends20
, Cloud Computing21
and legal guidance on BYOD22
your own device) where staff and students use their own computers.
Graphics from Edudemic23
that present a useful view of their research on the use of
personal technologies in education are shown below.
It should be noted that these statistics come from surveys in 2011 and 2012. Evidence
referred to in this briefing paper indicates that the figures will already have significantly
changed since then in terms of social media and personal technology usage.
5. Conclusions and Discussion
This briefing paper has attempted to summarise the current use and possible future
direction of social media and personal technology in education. Perhaps the most obvious
message is that it is a rapidly changing scenario and that the trend over the last three years
is more informative that the raw figures for 2013. The implication is that the figures for
2014 will again be quite different but likely to be moving on the same trajectory.
It is my view that the future development of social media and personal technology usage
will profoundly impact on future educational delivery. It has been the subject of much
debate about opening up access to education through online distance learning. However, it
is equally likely, in time, to radically change the way campus-based learning is facilitated.
I’m not entirely convinced by the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’24
, but it does give some
insight into current thinking about the impact of social media and personal technologies in
education. The proposal is that learning will take place at home through online engagement
and that tutor supported collaborative cohort activities take place on campus.
I have been experimenting for some time with the idea of building online learning
environments from freely available Web tools25,26
. These have proved successful and
indicate that it is perfectly possible to assemble all the document management,
communications and learning materials delivery tools necessary for effective learning
support. It also demonstrated that this could be done as an integral part of the design for a
new learning programme and that the learning environment remained in existence only as
long as the programme continued.
It is suggested that the advances in use of social media and personal technologies, along
with the rapid development of those technologies themselves, are leading to a situation
where the Internet itself will be the learning environment and bespoke/commercial
VLE/LMS applications are no longer needed. Online learning environments will be
constructed using social media resources at the same time as the course is designed. Doing
so will be the responsibility of the academic, but they will have the skills from their personal
use of the same media.