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Twitter For A New Way of Learning

Founded by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams in 2006, Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms with over 500 million registered users. Each day 135.000 new user sign up the web site and 58 million new tweets are posted.

Via Twitter it is possible to follow well-known people such as politicians, celebrities and journalists. Also companies’ corporate communication departments are actively using the platform in order to communicate with their customers. With this feature the platform is a significant marketing arena.

In addition to the mentioned usage areas is it also possible to benefit from Twitter as a learning tool? At ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) conference in May 2013, which is the conference organized by the world’s largest training and development association annually, there were several sessions discussing this topic. It was generally stated that using social media tools to support training programs is beneficial.

It is possible to use Twitter as a learning tool for classroom and online trainings. You should rather consider the platform as a tool to share information interactively rather than a way to distribute particular information. Owing to this aspect Twitter might be used to share articles, visuals or videos, to open an account for managing discussions on predetermined topics, to follow particular people or to improve foreign language skills.

At ASTD 2013 conference this year, Dr. Kella Price made a presentation which was entitled “Twitter 201 for Trainers”. Dr. Price mentioned that it is essential to get prepared before the training session, for which you will use Twitter chat method, in order to increase its effectiveness. She also shared a list of applications (Twitterapp) which support Twitter usage. Below you may see some headlines from the presentation:

  • You can reach a comprehensive list of Twitter applications via http://socialmediatoday.com/eric-goldstein/295232/most-complete-twitter-application-list-available-2011-edition
  • During chat session preparation process, decide on which Twitterapp you will use to manage the session (e.g. Hootsuite, Tweetchat, Tweetdeck)
  • Don’t forget to post 2-3 tweets prior to the session inviting people to participate and informing them of the topic.
  • Post rules or guidelines for participants to maximize the value of the chat. (e.g. Rule 1: Introduce yourself Rule 2: Stay on the topic Rule 3: Remember to include #hashtag in all posts.)
  • Post a warm-up question to get the conversation started. It does not need to be directly related to the discussion topic for the chat.
  • For an hour-long chat, you will need between 6 and 8 questions planned. Don’t forget to include your #hashtag in the question tweets.

In today’s environment Twitter has become an irrevocable fact of training summits and conferences too. Organizers open hashtags with the name of the conference (e.g. #astd2013 for ASTD conference this year) and start to post tweets even before the conference begins. Under the hashtag participants find a chance to share their thoughts about the summit and the sessions.
Twitter is also used for educational purposes, generally at higher education and in the field of foreign language learning. Twitter seems to be a perfect tool to support learning English, especially in blended classrooms, for the following reasons. First, Twitter is easily accessible from almost everywhere, so the students can practice at any time by sending and receiving messages either on the computer or the mobile phone. Second, Twitter is suitable for any level of English because in writing the messages, the students can choose a topic and grammatical structure fitting their level. Third, the use of Twitter as an online learning community can help to integrate students in the community who could not attend classroom.
Within this context I would like to share with you the results of a study applied in an English Foreign Language classroom at the Shanghai Jiao Tong Distance College (Online-SJTU) for seven weeks in 2007. In this work, the micro blogging tool Twitter was used in an English course for native speakers of Chinese in the following way: the instructor created a new, personal Twitter account. As homework, the students of this class were prompted to create their own account and to become “friends” with the instructor’s account as well as with the accounts of the other students. The students were then told to post at least seven micro blogging messages a week and to read the incoming messages of their fellow students. During the course, about 90 students made a total of almost 5580 updates.

At the end of the course, students were asked to fill out a bilingual questionnaire (English/Chinese) about their usage of and opinion on Twitter. According to the results of this questionnaire:

  • Almost 50% of the students stated that they communicated with native speakers on Twitter and it was an opportunity for them to improve their language skills.
  • 70% of participants mentioned that Twitter improved the sense of community in the class.
  • More than two third of the students spent less than 2 minutes to write a Twitter update. A similar pattern was visible in the reading behavior, about 95% spent less than 15 minutes on an average visit. This data shows that Twitter is a tool that is frequently accessed for a short time span, with a short amount of time spent writing and reading updates.
  • About 70% of students stated that they find it easier to communicate in English after using Twitter.

Twitter steps up among the alternative training tools with its simplicity, up-to-date content and accessibility via mobile devices. I strongly recommend you to use Twitter, which is one of the most popular platforms used by Y generation, to support your training programs.

Twitter Statistics. Retrieved June 5, 2013, from Statistic Brain: http://www.statisticbrain.com/twitter-statistics/
Borau, Ulrich, Feng, Shen (2009). Microblogging for Language Learning: Using Twitter to Train Communicative and Cultural Competence.
Price, Dr Kella (2013). SU 313-Twitter 201 for Trainers.
Yalın, D. S. (2012). twitter Nereye Gidiyor? Platin.

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