The Paradox of Social Media and Higher Education Institutions – Paper Summary

The following is a summary of Bonzo and Parchoma’s (2010) paper ‘The Paradox of Social Media and Higher Education Institutions’ .  A copy of this paper  can be obtained using the following link.


This paper explores the paradox that occurs between institutional expectations and expectations held by student regarding the use of social media in support of learning in higher education settings. Specifically, the example is given of a disagreement that took place in a recent conversation in a distributed medical education programme in Canada. The current body of research regarding the incongruity of expectations about integrating social media into a higher education institution framework suggests that a widening gap is emerging and that conflict is taking place. The example from Canada exemplifies the difference that exists in people’s understandings and expectations of how social media can be employed for benefit in education. The paper looks at the principles of social media and the potential impact on many of society’s institutions, including government, commerce, media and education. Interestingly, higher education seems to have fallen behind in adopting and adapting to the new social media reality. The key points of social constructivist thinking are then examined with special attention to the following five points: learning requires active participation by the learner; previous experience is important when reinforcing new learning; individual knowledge construction requires a social interaction element; negotiation within the learning environment is essential; and, learning best takes place within a socio-cultural context.  These principles are then addressed in relation to the social media principles of active participation, collaboration and that of reflection. Finally, three points are expanded as to potential sources and reasons why conflict may occur when trying to integrate a popular social media perspective into the established higher education setting. These are: existing hierarchical structure of higher education institutions; accreditation and quality concerns; and, formal and informal learning. Social media is more than computer application and programs and the technology behind them it is about transformation. At its core, social media is a collection of ideas about community, openness, flexibility, collaboration, transformation and it is all user-centred. If education and educational institutions can understand and adopt these principles, perhaps there is a chance for significant change in how we teach and learn in formal and informal settings. The challenge is to discover how to facilitate this change.


  • Reason for the study – desire to increase enrolment, looking at both physical and online learning spaces (using social media technologies) to accommodate the increased number of students.
  • Concerns held ‘over the ability to meld the two together.’ (Physical and Online/Social)
  • User-directed nature of social media at odds with traditional values and practices of institutions of Higher learning.
  • Trinder et al. (2008) ‘widening of the gap between the culture of educations institutions and the culture of learners’ lives outside higher education.

Review of Literature

Grassroots and Web 2.0/Social Media: Power to the People of Harnessing the Wind?

  • ‘The new Web…a tool for bringing together the small constructions of millions of people and making them matter…it’s really a revolution’ (Grossman 2006)
  • Bart Decrem (2006) ‘called social media the participatory web’; the components of which include ‘interlinking of people’ and ‘engaging actively and interactivity with content.’ (using the web collaboratively and interactively)
  • Social media is forcing changes in many of societies institutions.
  • What are the components of social media?
  • How can these components be used to improving learning for students?
  • Social media challenges traditional hierarchical structures of many organisations.
  • ‘Social media are inherently provocative and have sparked a new way of thinking about communication, collaboration and group effort.’
  • Social media = potential for change.

Social Constructivist Learning

  • Collaborative production – where people work together to achieve something that would be virtually impossible to achieve alone.
  • Student-centred learning – Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky & Rogers links with social constructivist learning which focuses on ‘how students construct their own learning.’
  • Ausbelian constructivism – meaningful instruction based on prior learning.

Social constructivism ideology (based on the work of Tynjälä 1999):

  • ‘Learning as information processing’
  • ‘Learning as experiential growth and pattern recognition’
  • ‘Learning as a sociocultural activity.’

Social constructivist elements (based on the work of Yilmaz 2008)

  • ‘Learning requires active participation by the learner.  Learning is not passive.’
  • ‘Previous experience couple with and compared with new experiences results in a reinforcement of/or adaption of that knowledge.’
  • ‘Individual knowledge construction requires a social interaction element with the environment.’
  • ‘Negotiation within the learning environment is essential to the development of shared meaning and common knowledge.’
  • ‘Learning best takes place within a sociocultural context – a community of practice.’

There are strong links between social constructivist theory and social media.  A table comparing these elements is contained with the paper.

  • Teachers will need to look at improving their understanding of social media and consider its possible benefits as a means of improving their own teaching practice and the learning opportunities they create for student.

Conflict and Paradox

  • Social media considered by many as a ‘disruptive technology’.  This view is based largely on the impact and pressure social media places of traditional models and institutions.
  • ‘Historically do not cope well with disruption, especially in the short term; however, coping with this disruptive force could mean engaging students in extended collaborative learning opportunities.’
  • Areas where conflict can emerge regarding social media include; existing hierarchical structures, issues relating to accreditation and quality of instruction, and formal and informal learning.

Existing Hierarchical Structure of High Education Institutions

  • The social constructivism approach may be a means of closing the gap between students social world and that of higher learning as it ‘already has roots in education and shares many of the same values as social media.’

Accreditation and Quality Concerns

  • Key point – quality education should prepare learners for the workforce.
  • Workplaces are increasing leveraging the benefits of social media, especially in collaboration.
  • Should higher learning not therefore look to include such social media in their curricula in order to best equip and position their students for life beyond university?

Formal and Informal Learning

  • Social media has been pivotal in blurring the boundaries between formal and informal learning.  It is this blurriness that ‘could cause a sense of uneasiness.’
  • social media is a ‘form of mass communication, collaboration and tool for bringing people together.’
  • Important to consider that social media is more than just the technology.
  • Organisation that tap into social media  move its use aways from ‘socil gathering’ towards ‘mass participation, user-generated content, openness, flexibility, collaboration, community’ and place the user at the centre of all of these.

[The use of social media] is not a technological revolution, but rather a social movement.’ (Downes 2004)


Bonzo, J., & Parchoma, G. (2010). The paradox of social media and higher education institutions. In Proceedings of the 7th international conference on networked learning (p. p917).






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