Let’s be honest: social media isn’t exactly the shining star of connection and togetherness it was once touted to be. These days, the most popular platforms are mired in controversy, from fake news to bullying to privacy concerns.
Yet whether or not you feel scrolling through Facebook is a waste of time, what these platforms have given us is the technology to connect to others in interesting and interactive ways. These capabilities make social media technology a potentially useful and even powerful tool for instructor-led training (ILT).
Why Use Social Media In the Classroom?
Laurie Goslee writes in the Association for Talent Development blog:
Social learning is intrinsic and validates the learners’ preference to learn with others in order to observe, exchange knowledge and apply social reinforcement. By incorporating social opportunities such as allowing our learners to comment, share ideas or ask questions, we change the learning from passive to active giving our users more control over their learning experience and facilitating deeper learning.
To Goslee’s point, social learning is not simply a recent development in the business training world—it’s a deeply rooted human tendency toward learning together, as a group.
By providing opportunities for your trainees to interact during your training session, a social media app can do more than simply keep a learner’s attention on the topic at hand—it can change the dynamic of the learning experience itself.
When passive listeners become active participants, learning happens at a deeper level, and your training will be more effective.
How Social Media Increases Engagement in Classroom Training
You might be asking: Why do I need social media in my classroom when participants can connect to each other IRL (translation: in real life)? Here are a few ways that social media can increase engagement in your classroom:
- Social media enables social learning (sharing and communicating in real time) not just during the classroom training, but before and after.
- It harnesses the energy of the people sitting in the classroom, keeping them focused on the class rather than distracted and looking at emails.
- As Marie Miguel writes in Learning Solutions magazine, social media lets you integrate customized content from multiple sources into your lesson plans—whether it’s a YouTube video, blog post, or infographic—creating a more dynamic and engaging experience than traditional classroom presentations.
- It can also be a valuable tool for creating user-generated content—the things participants write and share on the platform. This content can be leveraged in many ways, including as source material for future trainings or case studies.
- Learning becomes a unique and custom experience for each participant through their interaction with social media. As Russ Taylor writes on the eLearning Industry website, “Mobile apps are remarkably different from traditional business training formats. While traditional learning modules follow a linear learning format, digital learning on a mobile application allows for a personalized experience.”
If you’re intrigued about the possibilities of using social media in classroom training, read on for five tips for using this tool in your learning experiences. These tips cover how to define your social media strategy, how to implement social media, and how to use it to engage our youngest generation in the workforce, Generation Z.
Analyze and Define Your Classroom Social Media Strategy
Tip 1: Consider Your Audience and Learning Objectives
Social media can be a bit of a “shiny object,” and you might be tempted to look for ways to use it. Don’t fall into this trap.
Make sure that you implement social media in the classroom for the right reasons and after thorough planning.
If you want to successfully implement social media in your training, consider these questions:
What capabilities exist at your company?
- Do your employees already use social media at work? Which platforms are they using?
- Does your company already have a custom social media platform? If so, using it in your ILT can be a win-win!
Is social media right for the audience?
- Do members of your audience already use their personal smartphones at work? Or are phones provided by the company?
- Think about the generations that are represented in your workplace. Will a LinkedIn slideshow bore your Gen Z employees? Will Snapchat overwhelm your baby boomer workers?
Can you meet your learning objectives with social media?
- Will your training be enriched by collaboration, interaction, or networking? If so, social media can support your goals.
Tip 2: Explore How to Integrate Social Media into Your Learning Program
Once you’ve determined that social media will enhance ILT for your learners, you should then decide when they’ll use it. Consider how the technology can enhance your learning program before, during, and after the training event.
Before: Create a sense of community among the people taking your training. Through a social media channel, trainers and participants can introduce themselves, read preparation material, and complete surveys or quizzes. Participants can also share their expectations for the course, which you can use to customize your content!
During: Offer social-media-based projects during the course. Ask your learners to create and use a Twitter hashtag to discuss course topics or leverage their LinkedIn networks to gather expert information to share with the class. These activities encourage them to invest their creative selves in the material. (They’ll also get to practice using social media for your company, which your marketing director will thank you for!)
After: Post-training exercises keep the learning going by encouraging implementation. How much more likely are your employees to implement what they learn if they’re given a platform from which to share their trials and accomplishments?
How to Use Social Media in Classroom Training Environments
Tip 3: Use a Backchannel Tool During Your ILT
While attending a conference, have you ever been encouraged to go on Twitter and share what you’re learning with a clever hashtag? That’s a backchannel. It’s a real-time conversation that’s concurrent with the event or classroom presentation.
Annie Hodson, a Solution Architect at SweetRush, is a proponent of using a backchannels tool during training. “They’re a great way to let people have behind-the-scenes conversations and talk to each other directly during the class,” she says.
Of course, popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, or Yammer can be used as backchannel tools, allowing users to ask questions, discuss topics, and share resources, and there are many others tools specifically designed for classroom training.
This approach does more than simply satisfy your employees’ social media addictions. It engages them in an ongoing conversation about the topics you’re teaching—which makes them more likely to remember what they learn.
Tip 4: Use a Backchannel Tool After Your ILT
Using social media after the training encourages participants to share how they’re implementing what they’ve learned.
This is another instance in which you can enable backchannel conversations with the help of a tool. A backchannel tool “lets participants share feedback about the training and receive feedback from their colleagues,” Hodson says.
A social media platform that lets learners share feedback and continue learning from their peers makes it more than likely they’ll retain the information they’ve learned and feel confident using it in their work.
Social Media: An Opportunity to Engage Generation Z
Tip 5: Use Social Media in Your ILT to Pique Younger Staffers’ Interest
At SweetRush, we’ve seen how younger generations want to learn at work. “We see millennials and Gen Z wanting authentic content instead of a training manual created by a corporate entity. They prefer to hear from their peers about how to provide better customer service or advance their careers,” Hodson says.
Incorporating social media into your ILT gives Gen Z learners the chance to teach others and learn from one another’s experience in real time, thus enhancing their interest in the topics you present to them.
As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, Gen Z makes up “25 percent of the population of the United States, and by 2020, 30 million of them will join the workforce.”
Employers and ILT trainers have the opportunity to teach Gen Z the ropes and learn alongside them. Let’s consider the challenges this presents for employers:
- From our blog: “Your chances of getting members of Gen Z to click their way through a lengthy, text-heavy course are virtually zero.” This is where your ILT with social media makes the difference—by involving learners in an ongoing conversation with their peers during the training, you’re creating an environment of organic learning. Gen Z learners will follow along because their participation is built into your ILT.
- Gen Zers are “digital natives”—they’re at home online. Rather than merely meeting Gen Z learners halfway, you can use social media in your ILT to place your training squarely within Gen Z’s everyday environment, increasing engagement and participation along the way.
- “Gen Zers connect to a variety of different devices: laptops, tablets, [and] smartphones,” according to our previous post. Social media allows you to meet Gen Z learners where they are, which increases their level of comfort and engagement with the material you present to them.
Before we think that Gen Z represents a problem in the workplace, let’s look at the opportunities these younger workers present for ILT.
Members of Generation Z are proactive learners:they take ownership of their learning process. Employers can leverage this tendency by including experiential blended learning, which allows participants to develop business skills through the medium of shared experience.
Social media in ILT lends itself to experiential blended learning because it facilitates conversations between participants before, during, and after the training event.
Through social media, trainees can share their questions, concerns, ideas, and implementation strategies with their peers.
Incorporating the real-time element of social media into your ILT will go far to support the learning styles and preferences of the next generation.
Putting It All Together
In recent years, the development of social media apps and other customizable digital learning tools have turned ILT into a dynamic learning experience.
“What learners today get to experience is so above and beyond what it was several years ago,” says Kristi Gaylord, a SweetRush Instructional Designer. “Digital learning is fun, entertaining, and dynamic. There’s no more click-through presentations like I remember from the beginning of my professional life.”
While classroom training that features social media can indeed be more fun, its ultimate purpose is to increase learner engagement, strengthen your employees’ retention of information, and boost the chances that they’ll be able to use the information later to do a better job.
Amy Hartsough is a freelance writer specializing in eLearning, EdTech, and higher education. She can be found at AmyHartsough.com.