Welcome to our blog


December 10, 2020 • 1 minute read
By: Saskia Watts

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to recognize your continued hard work and adaptability in responding to the dramatic changes in education.

VitalSource Insights
Whitepapers, infographics, case studies, and more
VitalSource webinars and conferences
Blog > 3 social media tricks to improve student engagement: Teach Online Toolkit 'Refresher'

November, 26, 2020 . 4 minute read

3 social media tricks to improve student engagement: Teach Online Toolkit 'Refresher'



It can be challenging to keep your students’ attention now the bulk of their learning is online, but looking to social media techniques can provide inspiration.

Whether you love them or hate them, social media platforms are influencing your students’ expectations and behaviour. Designed to be engaging and habit forming, they provide an ever present distraction for your students, encouraging them to get online and interact. Clearly, remote learning has a fundamentally different purpose, but it can be useful to consider how lessons from social media could improve your students’ experience, and support their learning.


Stay emotionally engaged

Although research has associated higher levels of social media use with anxiety and depression, for many students, social media is where they turn when they want to feel better, when they are bored and want to be entertained, when they are lonely and looking for company, or seeking the dopamine hit from ‘retweets’ or ‘likes’. Interestingly, research suggests that actively creating social media content has a positive impact on wellbeing. This kind of behaviour appears to be increasing.

University lectures are often intentionally challenging for students, which can cause anxiety. In addition, students may associate remote learning with feelings of isolation. Asynchronous activities can leave students feeling frustrated and unsupported if there is not sufficient scaffolding, and online lectures can become very functional, effectively supporting learning outcomes, but failing to inspire and motivate. Instead of being physically immersed in the experience, with the chatter and closeness of their peers, many students are now studying alone in their rooms.

Give your students an emotional incentive to attend your live lectures

Build in time for informal chat at the start and end of the session.
Create opportunities to give positive feedback and show your approval.
Remember to smile! Yours may be the only face a student sees that day.
Include some active learning – participation can be motivational.
Learn more: Engaging your students

Get connecting

Meeting new people is an important part of going to university or college. If a student can build up a new peer group that can provide social and academic support, they are more likely to feel they belong. As well as making them happier, it can also make them less likely to drop out, and more likely to succeed. Social media helps students make connections – public profiles on apps like Instagram allow students to communicate their interests. Large society social media events allow them to find like-minded people, and smaller, private groups and direct messages are used for building relationships and seeking support.

Face-to-face lectures have traditionally provided a structure for even the most socially-uncertain students to find like-minded peers. However, with many universities transitioning their lectures online, some current students have found it harder to get to know their course group. They haven’t had the opportunity to connect by sharing problems and ideas as they leave the lecture hall. They are missing out on the camaraderie of working alongside students with similar passions. This reduces their social motivation to study, and their resilience to continue when the course gets tough.

Build motivation by connecting your students

Set online communication etiquette for your course or your students will develop their own!
Model good behaviour: show your students how to communicate frequently and positively.
Set activities and projects for small groups of students.
Be aware of those students who are not engaging – do they need help developing new skill sets, or wellbeing support

Find out more: Setting effective group work

Keep it frequent and varied

The effect that social media has on the brain is similar to that of gambling or recreational drugs. As they sit in lectures, your students’ phones will be buzzing and pinging as notifications pop up on the screen, trigging them to react. It takes little time and effort to swipe the screen and take a quick look in exchange for immediate rewards; likes, retweets, positive comments. This sequence is addictive, and once on a platform they may well be hooked by intriguing headlines and the varied and constantly changing content.

These techniques are also used by wellbeing and fitness apps. And some universities are adopting these approaches to encourage students to engage more frequently with their course material. Approaches vary depending on the subject area.

Hook your students

Use timely reminders: BI Business School increased student engagement by automatically sending a reminder and 3 minute piece of preparation work shortly before their lecture.
Break it down: Consider whether you could set shorter but more frequent activities.
Include forum activities in your assignments. This provides fresh peer-generated content for your students, giving them multiple ways to approach a problem.
Add variety to you lectures – and your asynchronous learning material. Can you usefully include audio or video, expert views, student presentations, challenges?


Using social media platforms

It’s clear that social media approaches offer insights into how to motivate students to engage more with their learning. But should you incorporate the social media platforms themselves into your teaching methods?

Many universities already take advantage of the small, closed communities that can be created through Facebook groups. Whether course-wide or specific to a study group, this provides a space for students to share content and collaborate. The Facebook groups are more accessible than other collaborative tools such as Slack. Most students already have a Facebook account and are familiar with how the platform works, even if the bulk of their activity is now on Instagram, Twitter or TikTok. This reduces their learning curve. And unlike WhatsApp, for example, connecting through Facebook does not require students to share their phone numbers.

However social media platforms are often tightly connected with identity. Some students may feel uncomfortable making any level of their personal profile – even their picture – available to other students. If teaching staff need to participate, they may also have reservations about using the same platform for personal and work activities.
An alternative is to find out from your EdTech team about any social media type tools incorporated into your institution’s learning platform. Although students may be less familiar with these tools, there are other advantages. They are specifically designed for use in an academic environment so will be more likely to seamlessly connect with, and support other learning activities, as well as managing issues such as data protection and security. They also encourage a more thoughtful communication style from students and provide them a space to interact that is at somewhat distanced from the distractions of regular social media.

About Becky:

Becky Hartnup is an independent EdTech consultant working with universities, content creators and tech suppliers to research and implement technology in education, while never losing sight of the people involved. She was awarded an MBA with distinction from Imperial Business School, having studied on their Global Online programme. Research interests include student experience, human centred design and immersive learning.

Read her research: How an Environment of Stress and Social Risk Shapes Student Engagement With Social Media as Potential Digital Learning Platforms: Qualitative Study.



Subscribe to the blog