Using Twitter to support the development of a learning community with postgraduate distance learning students

Simon Horrocks @horrocks_simon and Sheila Curran @sheilacurran1 – The Open University

As a distance learning institution, The Open University provides a fascinating case study for the potential use of social media for learning. As the vast majority of students study part-time at home or in their workplace, social media can help to enhance their sense of belonging both to the institution and their peers. It can also support engagement between academic staff who are developing and designing curriculum that is taught via distance learning, and students who are studying in different parts of the globe.

This paper will explore the opportunities and challenges of introducing social media channels to support a distributed learning community of more than one thousand postgraduate education students. In particular it will focus on the use of Twitter to support a globally distributed cohort of students, the vast majority of whom work within an education setting while studying part-time, and who are studying with the intention of developing their professional practice and careers.

As a joint initiative of the Faculty of Education and Language Studies and Student Services, the use of Twitter in this context blurs the boundary between formal and informal learning. It encourages students to learn from each other and the wider online education community, providing the ‘glue’ for a diverse student body and enhancing more formal university systems. It also aims to foster the development of professional identities and ‘communities of practice’ that students can continue to be part of once they have completed their formal postgraduate study.