Social Media for Learning: Advancing Theoretical Frameworks to Understand Complex Learning Environments


  • Alison Hartley University of Bradford
  • Valerie Farnsworth University of Leeds
  • Helen Bradbury University of Leeds



Social media, cultural history, higher education, social learning theories, informal learning


Students in higher education are driving the informal use of social media to support their cognitive and socio-emotional learning experiences during their undergraduate studies, with a growing literature base supporting the use of such technologies.  This paper highlights a need to take a longitudinal approach to explore how students’ use of social media tools may change over time and promotes the use of social learning theories as a useful lens through which to explain this complex and situated learning of a given community of practice. It argues that to enhance social media pedagogies the research community needs to explore more explicitly ways that innovative pedagogy can inform theory development within the field, and equally how a greater maturity in understanding those theories can enhance our pedagogical practices.  The potential for cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) as a framework for researching the multi-dimensional, or dialectical, interactions that may occur in the social media space is examined.  CHAT is promoted as a useful theory for introducing a greater focus on the role of the social media tool itself in mediating learning.  The paper concludes by proposing that that whilst existing social learning theories provide useful starting points for making sense of how social media can support learning, there may also be a need for the advancement of such theoretical frameworks to ensure that we develop theory capable of exploring the complexity of learning that could take place in social media spaces.