Learning management systems like Moodle, Blackboard and many more are standard at most universities and in many schools. They're great for course administration, keeping all course documentation, assignments, discussion and teaching resources in one place. However many people see them as walled gardens and wonder why we can't simply use freely available social media as a course platform instead. There are many examples of empty and uninspiring discussion forums in the university's LMS whilst the real discussion between the students is taking plce elsewhere, for example in Facebook. So why not just use Facebook as your classroom?
This is the subject of an article on the Austalian Flexible Learning Framework, Is Facebook the next LMS? If all the students are already on Facebook why not move the discussion there instead of asking them to log into a less inspiring forum? There are some convincing arguments for using Facebook. It's a familiar environment for students and allows them to integrate study with leisure. There's no learning curve for new students and they can even let other friends in their network get involved in course discussion. It's also easy to access from all mobile devices and easy to participate on the move. There are plenty of cases of university courses using Facebook as a learning space, in particular the London School of Business and Finance who run a Global Master of Business Administration (MBA) course. The flexibility and ease of use is appealing as Francis Kneebone points out in the article:
"Imagine if you could market a course or conference where the learners just had to click ‘like’ to begin. It would make training very accessible indeed."
The drawbacks centre mostly around privacy and control. Should public education take place in proprietary environments like Facebook? Who owns the material placed there? Can the content be archived safely or can Facebook pull the plug? At present Facebook is a rather chaotic environment for discussion where topics that disappear under the horizon at the bottom of the page seldom turn up again. I belong to several discussion groups there and it's impossible to get an overview of all the discussion threads; something most LMS are very good at. An additional problem is the lack of file storage in Facebook making it impossible to submit assignments though if students posted their assignments on a blog or other website that could be overcome.
There's no doubt that Facebook is a more appealing digital forum than any LMS and maybe the solution is to keep integrity sensitive functions locked away in the university's own LMS but move the more open course discussions on to Facebook or similar. Whether Facebook is still the dominant social network in five years time is debateable but we need to find ways of facilitating mobility between our various social networks. A single sign-on solution that lets me log on to my personal learning environment and allows me to seamlessly move between tools would be the dream scenario.