Content on SNSs is shared in multiple modalities, thus offering students different ways of learning about a specific topic. Usually, multimodal content shared by users combines two or more modes (e.g., text, image, video, and audio).
Context and authenticity
Media found on SNSs is contextualized because language and content are presented in relation to users’ real-life experiences. People from all around the world share information related to their personal lives which can be freely viewed by students. Content is constantly uploaded by users generating a virtually unlimited number of resources that can be accessed within the instructional setting and in informal contexts.
Free to use, user-friendly, and mobility
Differently from other technology tools, SNSs are free to use, and teachers and students can easily create accounts for educational purposes. SNSs can be accessed on desktop computers or mobile devices through the use of dedicated sites and mobile applications. The opportunity of accessing social networks on students’ smartphones is particularly suited for classroom instruction, as students can take out their mobile devices for an activity and then put them away when no longer needed. In this way, students are not required to bring additional tools into the classroom; instead, they are using what they already have.
The exposure to foreign cultures on SNSs can help students gain an in-depth understanding of perspectives and practices different from their own. Through meaningful pedagogical activities students can investigate cultural differences and examine cultural matters through the lens of social media from different countries.
Collaborative learning and community building
SNSs place students at the center of the learning experience where they can connect with cultures and speakers of the target language as well as people they already know. Students may work collaboratively on an e-portfolio on Instagram, or may respond to target language speakers’ comments on Facebook. SNSs allow students to learn and engage in a familiar format. SNSs have the potential of creating virtual communities that increase involvement between people who share a common interest.
Considering the widespread use of smartphone devices and of SNSs, many students are already familiar with these platforms and may feel motivated to also use them for educational purposes. SNSs-based activities may also give students the choice of cultural topics to investigate which help them feel more involved in the process of learning and content discovery.
The ability to learn independently is an important component of language learning. SNSs can help students become in charge of their own learning, especially when they take part in activities that require the search and construction of knowledge, rather than being dependent on the instructor. On SNSs students take an active approach to language and culture and become more invested in the learning process.
Limitations and challenges
Privacy and security
SNSs are open for anyone, and this means that students may encounter people whom they do not know or content that is viewed as inappropriate or even offensive. Concerns about privacy are understandable, however there are ways to limit content visibility and increase security. Learning how to limit the audience to what is being shared, especially with younger students, can help prevent privacy issues. Before using SNSs, it is important to understand and discuss Internet safety as well as privacy settings and norms.
Although mobile devices and the Internet have gained great popularity in recent years, not all students might have devices or smartphones that allow access to SNSs, or an Internet connection at home. Considering what students have access to is important to promote inclusive learning. If some students do not have the necessary tools to use SNSs, consider borrowing devices from the library or have students work in groups during class activities.
Social networks may become a distraction in the educational setting. Encouraging a meaningful use of SNSs, identifying specific class times for their use, and stating the reasons for their implementation can help create expectations and guidelines for students. It is easy to get lost in mindless scrolling on social networks, thus having a clear sense of purpose in the educational setting is fundamental for successful implementation.
Technology-related and other issues
Teacher training on how to use SNSs and various technologies is also necessary to avoid wasting class time. To avoid technology-related problems, some time should be spent beforehand to learn about how to effectively use SNSs. Students might also not want to use their personal accounts for educational purposes and thus creating an alternative account might be desirable. SNSs allow for multiple accounts to be logged in at the same time, and switching between accounts is fairly easy.