In 2009, a doctoral candidate from Ohio State University conducted a study of college students who use Facebook regularly (who knew there were any that didn’t?) and shared the results with the American Education Research Association (http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1891111,00.html). The study of 219 undergraduate and graduate students found that the GPAs of Facebook users averaged about a full grade point lower than those of nonusers. The implied conclusion—that Facebook has a detrimental impact on academics—is inescapable. Neuroscientists even go a step farther to claim that Facebook inhibits normal brain development and person-to-person interaction. Oxford professor Susan Greenfield suggests that constant connection to social media is guilty of “infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noised and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1153583/Social-websites-harm-childrens-brains-Chilling-warning-parents-neuroscientist.html).”
The case against Facebook seemed pretty grim for students, but the growing tide against the social media monster also generated pushback. Just like people can’t blame the fast food industry for their weight issues, perhaps college students can’t blame Facebook for their low GPA. Reynol Junco of Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania supported this premise after conducting a study of 1,839 college students. His conclusion was that for every 93 minutes spent on Facebook, the GPA dropped just .12 grade points. “Facebook use in and of itself is not detrimental to academic outcome,” says Junco. “It depends how it’s used (http://reyjunco.com/wordpress/pdf/JuncoCHBFacebookGrades.pdf).” Junco even went one step further to suggest that using Facebook as an information-gathering source can even increase GPA’s.
Going back to the original study, if we accept the premise that Facebook users earn a full grade lower than non-users, we then have to address the fact that correlation does not equal causation. It’s critical to look at the nature of the individual who is drawn to use social media two hours a day. This is a person who desires instant feedback. It is a person who wants social interaction. It is a person who does not just want to be passively engaged, but wants to be part of the dialogue. It is a person who wants to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas for the response of others, as well as to participate in the dialogue when others post theirs. In a traditional LMS, where controlled content is king, this learner will not thrive.
Junco’s study forces us to take a step back and recognize that the original study has nothing to do with whether someone chooses to use Facebook or not and it has more to do with different styles of learning. Facebook does well what traditional LMSs do poorly—it provides tools for engagement that suit the user. It is intuitive. It is open. Interaction and connections are the most valuable component, and that mimics the way that most people learn. Perhaps the question is not “How does Facebook affect GPAs?” but rather, “How can education learn from Facebook to increase GPAs?”