Engaging Students Online with Social Learning


What is Social Learning and how can you use it in an online education? How does this reduce the pressure on teachers and help with student retention rates? Let me show you how.

Social Learning is where students learn from their peers and this happens every day in real world classrooms. Online we use software tools like forums, text chats, audio chats, team collaboration tools, and other software to do the same thing. This increases student engagement and provides a sense of real time community.

Below I will give you specific tools you can use to add or increase your social learning for your students. I will also give you some advice on which tools work best.

Online Tools for Social Learning

There are many different tools online for students to be able to communicate with each other. They are critical in making a sense of community and helping your students succeed.

Tools we will be discussing are:

  • Website Forums
  • Live Text Based Chats
  • Live Audio Chats
  • Live Video Chats and Conferencing Software
  • Team Based Collaboration Tools

Now lets discuss each of these in more details with examples of which tools you could use.

Website Forums

This has got to be my least favorite type of social learning tool as it is not live and you can spend a lot of time looking for an answer as a student. While they are simple to set up on any Learning Management System (LMS) or Content Management System (CMS) as well as with your own custom website. They are really only as good as how well they are monitored and organised. The bigger they get the more time they consume for the student so are generally not student friendly. I have seen some that have been used well but most are not and are more a checklist item on the website and are there to reduce teacher time and not engage students in valuable learning.

Live Text Based Chats

There are heaps of live text based chat tools on the Google Play and iTunes stores. These are live text based one on one or group chat tools like:

  • Facebook Messenger
  • Whatsapp
  • Viber
  • Skype
  • Wechat

These tools can be great for student study groups. This allows students to be put into peer groups where they can socially learn and somewhere they can feel part of a community.

They are generally an application loaded on a phone so they can get engaged on the way to work or when out and about. Most students already use these types of tools so if you formalize the groups it makes sure everyone is included.

TIP : Facebook Messenger does not require you to have a Facebook account to use it and you can just sign up on the app just to use messenger.

TIP : Whatsapp and Wechat have online webpage interfaces if you want to use a full keyboard for a decent online chat.

Live Audio Chats

Scheduled live audio chats are great for students and since everyone has a mobile phone these days they already have the equipment for them. If you set up groups with your students and show them how to install and use the tools they will definitely be used. They can then have remote study groups where they can talk to each other and help each other.

Some of the tools you could use are:

You will notice these tools are widely used in computer gaming so most of your students will already know of them. Letting them know they can use them for learning in groups as well is just an extension of what they already use them for.

Group Video Chat

Group video chat is always a way to increase engagement when they can see who they are talking too. The internet speed required is a lot more than text or audio communication tools. It will limit your student group size to about 9 people and they will have to have a device with a large enough screen to see everyone.

Mobile phone screens are not normally big enough hence why they are generally limited to one to one video calling. This means generally a tablet or full computer screen is required. Tablets all have cameras but with a laptop or desk top computer they may need to purchase a webcam.

Some tools you could use for group video chat are:

There are many more such tools that you can look at and most of them have a free trial account for you to check them out. These tools also have shared whiteboard and text chats as well. The text chats being a great place to send links out or keep notes on decisions made during the session.

Team Collaboration Tools

These new types of tools work like your own private social media for your business and students can use them in exactly the same way. The exception is that they are secure and require people to log into their account.

You can control the chat groups and topics as well as moderate the messages. Students can text chat, send multimedia content of files and have an ongoing community to be part of. This means student have a safe environment unlike public social media to share their ideas and ask questions while learning.

Examples of these types of tools are:

These tools not only promote themselves as group collaboration tools but as a replacement for email software. It allows the business to better monitor and manage internal communications as well as they have great search facilities. As well as managing access you can control who is allowed in each groups thereby being able to place students into study groups.

Being in control and being able to see what they are talking about means you can see when students are stuck and need help. It also allows you to review the communications between students after the class or subject is complete to look for common themes and run reports on how effective the teaching was.

NOTE : This has been a major influence on email tools that you can now see are using a conversations style approach to organise your email.

TIP : Rocket Chat is free if you host it on your own website as it is open source

Ways to Promote Social Learning

We all know that no matter how much technology you put into your learning the tools are only as good as how effectively you use them. With this thought in mind below you will find some examples on how you can encourage the tools to be used.

  • Assign each class or group collaboration times
  • Provide new students with orientations of tools
  • Assign each new student an online existing student buddy
  • Promote social learning tools in all communications
  • Make social learning part of your marks

Rules for Online Behavior

Whenever students interact online it is easy to forget that you are talking with real people. When using online Social Learning Tools it is always wise to have some Rules for Online Behavior or Netiquette (Internet Etiquette). Here is an example of some of the rules you might put in place:

  • Respect other peoples opinions
  • Be ethical in your online behavior
  • Share your thoughts and ideas
  • Talk to people online like you would in person
  • No all caps as it is considered yelling
  • Watch the tone of your conversation
  • Use your manners
  • Know when something is getting out of hand and stop
  • Think about how what you will say will come across to others

What Next?

These are the steps I would recommend for you to do next:

  • Try the Rocket Chat Demo on their website above
  • Go to YouTube and type in Demo or Tutorial for the products above
  • Ask your student what tools they already use?
  • Make a plan for Social Learning

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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