Is social media content a boost or a bust for learning?

“Content content everywhere, not a byte to learn.”
                                              – Unknown

The digital invasion is here, and subject matter experts (SMEs) are the most pained group because of this. A doctor is plagued by the most bizarre and irrelevant questions about illnesses, academics are struggling to cope with plagiarism, and the entertainment industry is fighting hard to retain its audiences. The disruption is evident right across the sectors and value chains. Amidst all this, we also are facing the problem of plenty – plenty of instant gratification from plenty of social media sources giving plenty points of view with plenty of connections to spread them virally and create a false sense of reliability.

Image: Pixabay

While diehard sceptics still bar Wikipedia from being quoted as a credible source, academicians have always maintained that learning from any source is valuable. However, the challenge we face with this premise is on multiple accounts. Structured learning is hampered critically if it is entirely based on social media content. While the instantly accessed sea of content can give factual answers, the search for more evolved and sustained learning is short-served by the social media tsunami. More often, we have noticed that a learner is blindsided by less critical dimensions of the served content like search engine ranking, the speed of access, presentation, irrelevant endorsements, unsubstantiated biases, and many lacunae that make social media a poor learning resource.

Despite social media’s shortcomings, it continues to be a preferred source of information for the younger generation. The preference arises out of the abundance, proximity, and simplicity of the material on social media. No academic can change this by simply imposing a ban on the use of these sources. What is needed is to help the learners develop an ability to analyse the nature of the source material within the social media. The SMEs should devise ways to engage the next generation with a strong body of references to accredited scholarly sources. There is a need to leverage the power of social media by making the new-age learner able to differentiate between the wheat and chaff.

When consuming digital content, it is important that the learner exercises certain discretion in selecting what to invest one’s time and effort on, and even higher discretion when using them as a basis for one’s learning. Interfacing with known experts on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn and following the blogs of verified experts is a good place to start the process. Avoid blindly following the links forwarded from big groups. It is critical to check the site address detail even before clicking a link for making sure that one doesn’t fall prey to phishing and other attacks. In the context of learning, it is further critical that some of the basic facts are verified by a simple cross-referencing and external validation.

At an institutional level, it is important that resources are committed to carefully curate content and add a simple gist for unaware leaners to pursue digital content with confidence. You can use a 7C checklist (see below) to establish a content’s value to you and serve as a guide for one to create content. For learners, this checklist gives a sound basis to pre-assess the content before making it a basis for their assimilation of ideas.

  • Context – What questions am I looking to get answers for?
  • Currency – When was it created? Are there earlier/later versions available?
  • Command – Is the author a known subject expert? Has he/she got any other content?
  • Connection – Are there references for the facts or borrowed ideas? Is there a basis to learn more?
  • Clarity – Do I get the answers I was looking for? Does it trigger new questions?
  • Commerce – Do I have to pay for reading, saving, and/or sharing this content?
  • Copyright – What are the conditions for its reuse?

While the deluge of social media is unstoppable, it also offers a democratic medium to reach masses efficiently and effectively. Original ideas, rigorous research, well-crafted fiction, or substantiated opinions are of high value and offer lucrative career paths too. The approach to developing this skill lies in a strong research orientation and a firm grounding in consuming seminal published work. Increasingly, professional schools in business and technology are recognising this and introducing it into their core curriculum.

Randhir Mishra is an adjunct faculty at IFIM Business School.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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