Extending the Walls of our Classrooms with Online Informal Learning Environments: An Investigation of Social Media in the Higher Education Classroom

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Rebecca S Putman


Traditional learning environments are often constrained by time and place.  Many researchers have suggested that social networking tools are one way to support a more participatory and interactive experience for students in the higher education classroom and encourage learning connections across time and place. While social networking tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are commonly used and studied in higher education, the use of Google+ Communities is still in its infancy. (Note: Google announced in October 2018 that they would be shutting down Google + in 2019; however, the results of this study can be extended to other social media platforms.) The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to explore how the utilization of an online informal learning environment (Google + Communities) influenced the success of preservice teachers in a children’s literature course.  While the results indicated that the Google + Community did not have a statistically significant effect on preservice teachers’ final grades, there were several benefits including connections and transfer of learning to other courses and the greater teaching profession, increased community building and improved critical evaluation of information and texts. This study provides insight into the purpose, usefulness, and other benefits of informal learning environments, including Google + Communities.

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