Social Media and the Rise in Online University Attendance

Today’s younger generation of students is well-versed in the social media world. Most have Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts.  They read several daily blogs, keep up with friends over Skype and rely on bookmarking sites such as, Reddit and Digg for their news. Almost all of their communication is done via computer and cell phone. Most of their free time is spent online. It only makes sense that as the use of social media continues to increase so too does the number of students seeking out an education at an online university.

The number of students attending online university programs is on the rise. Each year 30% more students enroll in an online university. In fact, University of Phoenix alone boasts an enrollment of more than 250,000 students! With growing technology use these numbers should continue to grow, and quickly.

Social Media in the Traditional Classroom

If you dropped in at one of thousands of traditional university classrooms around the country today you’d see rows of students with laptops set up in front of them. If you looked closely you may be surprised to see that the majority of these students are not typing notes. Instead, they’re probably surfing the internet, e-chatting with friends, posting to Twitter or catching up on the latest celebrity gossip. Some professors would be upset that their class was not paying attention. However, many professors are beginning to understand that this is not, in fact, that case.

Today’s students have been dubbed “master multi-taskers”, meaning they do not need to pay singular attention to one thing in order to understand. The advents of laptops, smart phones and social media outlets have all led to this phenomenon. Just think of how many times you’ve been having a conversation with someone while typing an email, doing a quick Google search, or checking Facebook. How often have you sent a text message while watching TV? These are all examples of multi-tasking with technology that have “programmed” us to be able to pay attention in a classroom with all of these other distractions.

Teachers who understand this trend have embraced the use of social media as a means to engage students. Classroom blogs are now available to students for extra instruction. Some teachers have incorporated texting and Twitter as a way for students to ask questions. Lecture videos are being made available on YouTube and previously unavailable guest speakers are now about to present to students via Skype.

Colleges and universities are using social media to reach their students as well. Many have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts to post upcoming events and alert students to school news. Never before have schools been able to reach all of their students with information so quickly, and never before have traditional colleges and universities so closely resembled the workings of an online university.

Social Media in an Online University Program

The advent of social media has only helped online university programs become more convenient and interactive for their students. New technologies have allowed the online university experience to be more personal. Online chatrooms, virtual classrooms, email, instant messengers and web cams are making earning an online university degree almost as interactive as a traditional classroom. Add to that experience the use of social media and students begin to feel like an online university education is second-nature.

While the use of these new technologies and social media outlets may scare off a few potential online university students (usually the older generation without much tech-savvy), it appeals to the larger audience – the younger population who spends the majority of their time online. Online university teachers continue to embrace the new technology and most have incorporated social media into their curriculums. If you are wary about this new technology, read our article Online University Learning and Chat Rooms.

Classes have online discussion groups and course blogs where students can comment and ask questions. Instead of email, some teachers prefer to get student questions and answers through Twitter or text. They send students to social bookmarking sites such as Digg and to search for current news. Maybe best of all, students have been able to develop closer relationships with one another through Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites. It has made the online university experience more personal and, for many students, a much better option than a traditional university.

How has social media shaped your online university experience?