Specifically, this new paradigm significantly alters the three pillars of traditional instruction—fixed time, fixed location, and fixed learning pace—with a more flexible, customized, and mobile learning environment. Consistency and compatibility are two of the core challenges associated with this virtually anything goes knowledge acquisition mantra. Consistency implies that each element of the educational program adopts the same social media standards and practices. The last thing needed is for some classes within a curriculum to totally embrace social media while others have an outright ban or significant restrictions on usage. It is also essential to recognize that some learning tasks may be enhanced by social media while with others the traditional face-to-face format may be best. The uneven adoption of the new communication tools and technologies will weaken consistency in measuring learning outcomes and thus become an increasing challenge to the accreditation process! Enhancing learning outcomes is, after all, the prime directive of the business education community. Compatibility suggests that the institution’s IT structure needs to accommodate the wide range of communication modalities currently in use or planned for the future (e.g., Facebook, Skype, Yammer, and yes even a Dick Tracy Smart Phone).
“As it is, I am the president of a graduate school, I am in my fifties, and Social Media has become my Swiss Army Knife for doing business in higher education.” James Nolan, Southwestern College
Social media based e-learning calls for knowledge models that focus on engagement. This approach requires as much emphasis to be placed on the learning processes as on subject content. Specifically, the learning environment should be designed to encourage dialogue, facilitate the exchange of ideas and harness the power of collaboration. This is what social media based learning is all about. The expression six-degrees of separation is an apt metaphor. First proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, six-degrees suggest that in a network, like the Internet, you can connect to any other member of the network through no more than five intermediates. Several notable experiments have been conducted on this theory (Milgram, 1967; Facebook, 2010), which have reasonably validated this estimate. This is clearly powerful stuff! This networking learning strategy can be used to find resources for understanding and solving real-world problems and applications in a very efficient and timely manner both inside and outside the classroom.
The nature of online learning suggests that it be based on andragogical theory in contrast to pedagogy theory. The andragogy model, which is not limited to adult education, is predicted on increasingly self-directed learning that is task or problem-centered and is motivated by internal incentives including curiosity. This model allows students to take a much larger ownership stake in the learning process through the dynamic engagement between cohort groups. Business simulations provide an ideal platform in this regard. These systems facilitate situational learning through the interactive practice of real-world skills and by focusing on the essential aspects of a problem or application. Many business simulations can now be accessed via social media technologies. As many educators know, students tend to participate more in learning environments that are content rich and that feature extensive variety, which is a hallmark of business simulations.
“Information about the package is as important as the package itself!” Fredrick Smith, FedEx
A growing body of evidence suggests that collaboration is a key ingredient in helping facilitating this new social media based learning age. A primary function of a collaboration network is to provide communities of practice with access to learning assurance protocols, curriculum innovation, databases, cloud computing resources, m-learning technologies, and implementation strategies. Three key characteristics of an effective collaboration network include: 1) coordination—ease of use and access, 2) communication—capability to share information, and 3) cooperation—supports learning group’s objectives. The thoughtful blending of course design and innovative assessment via collaboration can create educational experiences comparable to face-to-face learning encounters. In this regard, some specific challenges associated with integrating social media into the curriculum include:
- What are the associated learning curves and costs?
- How does the effectiveness vary based on specific categories of students or particular course objectives?
- How likely are faculty members to adopt social media as a compliment or substitute to traditional methods of instruction?
With respect to the last consideration, a recent survey on social media usage in higher education by Pearson Publishing (2012) revealed:
- Nearly one-third of the faculty are presently using these technologies in the classroom.
- Online videos are by far the most common type of social media used in class, posted outside class, or assigned to students to view.
- Younger faculty, under 35, are twice as likely to use social media in the classroom as are older faculty (over 55).
- Two of the most pressing faculty concerns about social media usage are privacy and integrity.
Ultimately, successfully expanding the role of social media in management education will depend on effectively integrating these communication systems and technologies into the curriculum. As a general proposition it is most likely best to avoid identifying specific mobile technologies, but instead to provide a framework wherein students can discover the most attractive interactive approach. Again it is not about the technology, but about how the technology can be used to enhance the learning process. By developing this futuristic perspective, business schools can begin to get ready for virtually anything in management education.