Online social networks and learning

Christine Greenhow (Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences and Technology in the College of Education and College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Publication date: 1 February 2011



This viewpoint essay seeks to argue that young people's online social networking can serve as sites for and supports for student learning in ways not currently assessed.


The two themes presented are based on a select review of the research literature as well as the author's explorations of young people's online social networking practices within MySpace and Facebook, two naturally occurring, youth‐initiated sites, as well as in an online social networking application designed for environmental science education and civic action.


Two themes are presented: (1) social network sites can serve as direct and indirect supports for learning, such as providing an emotional outlet for school‐related stress, validation of creative work, peer‐alumni support for school‐life transitions, and help with school‐related tasks; and (2) online social networking can stimulate social and civic benefits, online and offline, which has implications for education.

Practical implications

Currently, social media are largely blocked in schools due to privacy, security, and copyright concerns. In the USA, the National Educational Technology Plan published in November 2010, and recent educational standards, both assume 24/7 access and use of newer web technologies for learning and advocate appropriation of technologies students already use, and prefer to use, for educational purposes. Consideration of how social media, such as social network sites, currently support informal learning may advance one's ability to construct effective social media‐enabled environments for more formal learning purposes.


This paper presents concrete examples of how social network sites, typically seen as a distraction, might be re‐envisioned as supports for revised student learning outcomes.



Greenhow, C. (2011), "Online social networks and learning", On the Horizon, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 4-12.

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