Microblogging = Micro-education?

On: October 7, 2010
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About Anne Lukas
Before I went to Amsterdam to start the New Media Master, I studied Educational Design, Management & Media (BA) at the University of Twente (Enschede, Netherlands). During this time, I did an internship in Sydney, Australia for an educational company. There I was designing course material for academic institutions, but unfortunately only print-media. In my opinion is this medium too limited to educate people nowadays because of its lack of interactivity. So after this experience I wanted to be more engaged in e-learning. For the future, I wish to become an instructional designer who develops educational software, websites, etc.


Since the beginning of the Twitter hype, I was wondering what the value of Twitter is. Can we possibly learn anything from or through microblogging? Is it useful for companies to encourage lifelong learning? Or can schools and other institutions improve their education with microblogging? Until now I haven’t found an answer for these questions and until now I still refuse to read or even post Twitter messages. However, I am aware of the fact that many people strongly disagree. For example Alan A. Lew loves Twitter and presents some items related to Twitter and education. Another example is Harry G. Tuttle who believes that much can be said in few characters but he also points out that the value of a Twitter message is up to the writer. Carol Cooper-Taylor shows 50 ideas on using Twitter for education, David Parry wrote down an astonishing amount of ways to use Twitter in Academia and Megan Jones collected 25 Twitter tips for college students. So maybe I should rethink my qualms about microblogging. I will do so with a short analysis of microblogging applications in the beginning and with a scientific analysis of recent research articles in the end.

1. What is microblogging?

Twitter and other popular microblogging applications including friendfeed, Jaiku, Plurk, Yammer, Tumblr, but also the status updates embedded within sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and so on lets users share brief blasts of information – usually less than 200 characters – to friends and followers from multiple sources including websites, third-party applications or mobile devices (DeVoe, 2009). For example Twitter, has seen tremendous participation growth in the last years (DeVoe, 2009); in a 1-year span (08/2009 – 08/2010), Twitter has reached more than 28,6 million unique visitors and more than 232,9 million visits in August 2010. But how are these people using the platform? One of the first scientific studies points out that microblogging facilities can be used in three ways: information sharing, information seeking, and friendship-wide relationships (Java, Song, Finin, & Tseng, 2007).

2. What are the possibilities of using microblogging in educational contexts?

The possibilities offered by Twitter or other microblogging applications, represent creative additions and alternatives to a frontal lecture and are often taken as a positive change by students. A common motive of teachers to use these new kinds of web 2.0 applications is to increase the motivation of students and staff with the new resources (Hisserich &Primsch, 2010). “As a tool for students or professional colleagues to compare thoughts about a topic, Twitter can be a viable platform for metacognition, forcing users to be brief and to the point – an important skill in thinking clearly and communicating effectively”. Thus, microblogging can be seen as a simple and speedy reference system for publications, documents, blogs and Internet resources, and not only referrals but also descriptive context are included. For example, by sending relevant links, dynamic link collections can occur which can be used in courses as a digital reader (Hisserich & Primsch, 2010). As a result of Hisserisch’ and Primsch’ research, Twitter seems to be a good complement to existing means of communication in university teaching, through which the networking of students with each other, students and a lecturer or practice partner and also to network with students and experts outside the seminar context in a public science communication can be supported (2010). Therefore they collected the most important conditions and elements for the effective integration and use of Twitter in an academic context (in German).

Other researchers also support the theory that microblogging can be an effective learning tool. Ebner et al. (2010) see the potential of microblogging especially for informal learning and process-oriented learning. Their research showed that microblogging is used for project-oriented communication as well as for private informal communication. Ebner et al. (2010) see the relevance of informal learning as an easy exchange, in addition to formal communication, which supports social interactions in group work. In this way the opportunity for informal communication and the use of the tool according to individual needs is considered an important factor for the acceptance of microblogging in formal education (Ebner et al., 2010). They also stress out that essential to student motivation is also the (rapid) feedback of other students or teachers and the connection between formal learning in lectures and informal learning in practice (transfer of knowledge). Secondly, microblogging supports process-oriented learning by a constant information flow between students and between students and teachers. This learning process is supported because posted thoughts and ‘‘information pieces” make it possible for users to participate with others in their thinking and in addition, initially discarded thoughts can be picked up and developed by others. Thus the students’ learning and working process becomes more transparent and the teacher can intervene ad hoc and correct the direction of learning (Ebner et al., 2010). So the results of this study is that microblogging supports:

  • Informal learning through informal communication,
  • Support of collaboration,
  • Feedback on thoughts,
  • Suggestions to reflect one’s own thoughts,
  • Collaboration independent of time and place,
  • Direct examination of thoughts and causes of learning,
  • For teachers the following factors are crucial,
  • Current information on the status of learning,
  • Possibility to steer the intervention in the learning process of individuals and groups,
  • Possibility for immediate, direct feedback,
  • Facilitation of student group work and
  • Getting an impression of the learning climate (Ebner et al., 2010).

An example of a microblogging platform specially designed for education and business, is Cirip.eu. This platform was launched in March 2008 under the coordination of Carmen Holotescu. Moreover, it has many educational uses for information and knowledge management, for courses enhancement, for delivering entire online courses, for collaborative projects in universities, for communities of practice, or for eportfolios (Grosseck & Holotescu, 2010). The same authors developed and moderated during June 2008 an online course in Cirip.ro. In their opinion “microblogging, and especially Cirip.ro, proved to be an effective tool for professional development and for collaboration with students, that can change the rules of the courses and models good pedagogy responsive to student’s learning needs. Furthermore, as a social networking / microblogging platform, Cirip.ro provides valuable interactions in educational context, acting as a social factor in a course management system” (Grosseck & Holotescu, 2009).

As a conclusion I can say that microblogging provides features that could be considered as helpful for education. Though, I think that there are better ways and applications to support learning. So I totally agree with Galagan (2009), who wrote that: “micro-blogging is only one kind of social media tool with the potential to support learning. Those that offer collaborative file sharing, mindmapping, writing, and editing capabilities can support more complex collaborative learning than Twitter. But for the moment, nothing else is as immediate or growing as fast. As Milstein points out, microblogging is taking off because it fits how people work and think.” Am I a fan of Twitter or other microblogging applications now? No, still I am not convinced but I do see the point that many people try to make and I understand their approach to microblogging.


DeVoe, K.M. (2009). Bursts of information: Microblogging. The Reference Librarian, 50(2009), 212–214. DOI: 10.1080/02763870902762086.

Ebner, M., Lienhardt, C., Rohs, M., & Meyer, I. (2010). Microblogs in higher education – A chance to facilitate informal and process-oriented learning? Computers & Education, 55(2010), 92–100. DOI:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.12.006.

Galagan, P. (2009). Twitter As a Learning Tool. Really.

Grosseck, G. & Holotescu, C. (2009). Using microblogging to deliver online courses. Case-study: Cirip.ro. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(2009), 495–501. DOI:10.1016/j.sbspro.2009.01.090.

Grosseck, G. & Holotescu, C. (2010). Microblogging multimedia-based teaching methods best practices with Cirip.eu. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2010), 2151–2155. DOI:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.297.

Hisserich, J. & Primsch, J. (2010). Wissensmanagement in 140 Zeichen.

Java, A., Song, X., Finin, T., & Tseng, B. (2007). Why we twitter: Understanding micro-blogging usage and communities. Paper presented at the proceedings of the 9th WebKDD and 1st SNA-KDD 2007 workshop on web mining and social network analysis.

Recommended references:

Conner, M. (2009). Twitter 101: Are You Tweeting?

Ferriter, M. (2010). Why Teachers Should Try Twitter.

Grosseck, G. (2009). To use or not to use web 2.0 in higher education? Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(2009), 478–482.

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