Enhancing the student learning experience via social media

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In this blog post, Dr Siobhan O’Connor, a Lecturer in Nursing Studies, describes how she and a student co-led a review to understand how social media is used in nursing education as an approach to learning …


Social media has been with us now for over a decade and, as a technology, it is very popular among young people. There are many types of platforms and social media tools with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube being some of the most widely used across all regions of the world. Nursing students often tell me that they spend a lot of time on social media posting information and links, sharing photos and videos, and interacting with friends, family and others in these virtual environments. This prompted me to reflect on my own social media use, and whether I gained any value for the time I spent online. We discussed this further in class, which prompted further conversations about how people learn in these types of digital settings.

One student, Sarah, felt that she had picked up useful information about nursing by following some nurses on Twitter and participating in Facebook groups such as the ones run by the Royal College of Nursing in the UK. We kept coming back to the fact that mobile devices now facilitate students to access information anywhere, anytime, and allows them to learn in new ways not possible in previous generations (O’Connor & Andrews, 2018). Both Sarah and I were intrigued by how students learn when using social media, and we decided to review the evidence to see if it was beneficial or not, and, if it was, how we could incorporate it effectively into nursing education.


After doing some preliminary searches, we realised there was quite a lot published on the topic. We set about doing a systematic review to synthesise the evidence and provide some guidance to lecturers on how best to introduce and leverage social media in nursing education. Some colleagues who have an interest in technology-enhanced learning joined the team, and we spent two years rigorously synthesising the literature on social media in nursing and midwifery education (O’Connor et al, 2017). Sarah was keen to co-lead the review to gain some research experience during her undergraduate studies. She was involved at each stage, from searching and screening studies, to undertaking quality assessment and extracting data. She also assisted during the analysis process to ensure the results were relevant to the student community.


What we found was fascinating. It seems that social media can support students to attain new knowledge and skills, from understanding disease processes to improving communication and clinical skills, whilst also improving confidence in their abilities (O’Connor et al, 2018). Our review also uncovered some key elements of the learning process. These included the interactive and dynamic nature of information sharing and networking on social media, and the characteristics of these digital platforms that are more student-centred, as this appears to enhance collaborative learning. However, some studies reported that the quality of information on social media was variable and hence was not always reliable for learning.

Some fundamental aspects needed for a successful pedagogic intervention via social media also emerged. These included: how well organised it was; digital literacy and e-Professionalism among faculty and students; the accessibility of the online applications; and whether students were motivated or not to learn via social media.


While the literature review was small, including only twelve studies, we felt that social media presented a new approach to learning not just in nursing but across all areas of higher education. We discussed theories that could support the findings of the review and help explain how students learn via social media. However, we felt some of the current eLearning models did not quite reflect all the elements identified in the review, and it would be beneficial to develop a new theory that captured this 21st century mode of learning.

Therefore, we drew on Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1976) because it combines both constructive and behaviourist approaches. It focuses on attention, memory and motivation when the learner or person observes others behaviour in a particular environment. From this, we created a new Social Media Learning Model that helps explain how students learn when using this novel technology. Although it is a preliminary model, which warrants further testing and development, it can support future social media based interventions in higher and continuing education. The review is also beneficial for students and educators as they can identify the types of social media platforms used for learning and the types of teaching and assessment approaches to employ to enhance learning outcomes and the student experience.


Bandura, A. (1976). Social learning theory. Oxford: Prentice-Hall. http://www.asecib.ase.ro/mps/Bandura_SocialLearningTheory.pdf

O’Connor, S., Joliffe, S., Stanmore, E., Renwick, L., Schmitt, T. & Booth, R. (2017). A mixed study systematic review of social media in nursing and midwifery education: protocol. Journal of Advanced Nursing 73(8), 1989-1996. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.13310

O’Connor, S., Jolliffe, S., Stanmore, E., Renwick, L., & Booth, R. (2018). Social media in nursing and midwifery education: A mixed study systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing74(10), 2273-2289. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jan.13799

O’Connor, S., & Andrews, T. (2018). Smartphones and mobile applications (apps) in clinical nursing education: A student perspective. Nurse Education Today69, 172-178.

Siobhan O’Connor

Dr Siobhan O’Connor is a Lecturer in Nursing Studies, in the School of Health in Social Science. She is keen to support the learning experience of nursing students in academia and clinical practice through the use of technologies such as mobile applications, social media, podcasting, and virtual or augmented reality among others.

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