Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Using Facebook as an Informal Learning Environment

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Using Facebook as an Informal Learning Environment

Article excerpt


While traditional face-to-face instruction offers numerous advantages for learning, it is constrained by time and space. Many course schedules do not accommodate an instructional strategy that includes discussing non-textbook topics that are frequently on television and radio, in the newspaper, and/or online. Providing contemporary, real-world examples of concepts taught in class is an established method for demonstrating the relevance of course content and reinforcing the need of staying abreast of current issues. (1) Expanding course topics to include contemporary issues beyond the core content also may expand students' perspectives and illuminate the need for lifelong learning. A second challenge to making course content more relevant to students in a traditional classroom setting is the logistical difficulty of including guest lecturers. Experts external to the college or school can provide unique perspectives, but it can be challenging to schedule and bring them to campus, especially if they are located a great distance from the campus.

When used as a teaching tool, new social media applications may offer distinct advantages for teaching to day's students. The use of social media applications in teaching and learning has garnered substantial interest among educators. Attributes of openness, collaboration, and user-generated content, combined with social media's immense popularity among college-aged students have made applications like Facebook and Twitter attractive to college instructors. (2) Research is needed regarding specific strategies for achieving instructional objectives. Three prior studies of social media within pharmacy education have described how Facebook and Twitter can be used for learner interaction. (3-5) The activity described in this paper, however, used a different teaching strategy based on an informal learning environment.

Informal learning experiences occur outside the context of formal education settings and offer ways of engaging students in academic content without the time constraints of the formal curriculum. (6) While extracurricular programs and book clubs provide opportunities for informal learning, social media offers the additional advantages of an informal, mobile setting and less rigid time constraints as class discussions can be held outside of regular class times.

Course directors of the University of Kentucky pharmacy management and leadership course wanted to broaden student exposure to national thought leaders, as well as devise a strategy for introducing contemporary business and management issues not typically addressed in depth in the course. The course provides a fundamental overview of a variety of business, management, and leadership topics such as accounting, marketing, human resources, strategic planning, and organizational behavior. It is critical for pharmacy graduates to maintain professional competence in their knowledge and skill sets and this involves staying abreast of emerging issues that affect all aspects of the provision of patient care. (7) Accreditation guidelines for pharmacy educators also call for strategies that broaden the professional horizons of students through various means including the use of guest lecturers. (8) External guest experts can provide a broader and more diverse student experience and those guests can be accommodated easier through asynchronous environments. (9)

To address the goals of including guest experts in online presentation of contemporary topics, the course directors designed an informal learning strategy using a course Facebook group page. Facebook was selected as the delivery medium for 3 primary reasons. It was a simple to use tool for sharing content online and promoting discussion. Because of the social rather than academic nature of Facebook, it created the informal learning environment desired for this activity. Also, Facebook was a feasible platform for bringing students together with external experts and thought leaders already active on Facebook. …

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