Social media and student outcomes: teacher, student and employer views

By Victor Callan, Margaret Johnston Research report 23 November 2017 978-1-925717-02-0


This report investigates how social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, is being used in VET courses. Interviews with teachers, students and employers across three registered training organisations found that social media can help to improve student engagement and lead to more course completions. While the use of social media was favoured, there were some concerns around the double-handling of information by teachers for audit purposes and students’ understanding of privacy settings.


About the research

Accessing and posting on social media has become a daily habit for many Australians. Social media is used by individuals to keep in touch with friends and family, by groups to inform their members of relevant information and by organisations to market their services and products. However, is there a role for social media in vocational education and training (VET)?

This report looks at how social media is being used within the VET sector as a tool in teaching and learning. The researchers conducted interviews with teachers, students and employers across three different registered training organisations (RTOs) to determine the types of social media most useful in teaching and learning, how they are being used, and whether the outcomes for students are being improved.

Key messages

  • Given the scope and purpose of this study, it appears that there are currently only a limited number of Australian VET institutions actively using social media in their teaching. These institutions all had clear guidelines and technological mechanisms for the positive use of social media in teaching. A larger study, one involving a more representative sample, is required to fully understand the uptake of social media in VET courses and its impact on outcomes.
  • The main types of social media currently used in VET are Facebook and YouTube. Facebook is used for its group functionality and its capacity to make announcements, while YouTube is used to enable students to upload videos of themselves performing tasks, and teachers to share relevant content with students.
  • Students prefer to use the form of social media that will be of most relevance to their future roles. For example, marketing students like to use Facebook and Twitter because these tools are widely used for promoting products and events.
  • The use of social media in courses encourages greater engagement in learning in some students and, based on the anecdotal evidence presented, may result in higher completions than in those courses not using social media.
  • In order to present evidence for audits of teaching and assessment that utilises social media, teachers are having to transfer exemplar information from the social media platform to the institute’s learning management system rather than presenting it as is, thus double-handling information. Clarification from institutes and regulators on the forms of technologically enabled assessment that are acceptable as evidence for audits is needed.
  • Another practical consideration for VET teachers and institutions is that students do not necessarily understand the privacy issues surrounding social media in the classroom context. Teachers find they first need to teach students about the relevant privacy options to ensure that posts remain out of the general public eye. This is important as RTOs are obliged to comply with the Australian Privacy Principles.
  • Employers found social media prompted them to be more connected to the theory side of the student’s learning. They also believed social media helped to smooth the transitions between the learning and work environments and they emphasised the benefits of Facebook as they affected the administration of training.

Dr Craig Fowler
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary


The aims of the study were firstly to examine the forms of social media used to assist students to engage with and to complete their vocational education and training (VET) programs, and secondly to investigate the outcomes from the use of social media, including the benefits associated with increased levels of collaboration, increased engagement by students with an education or training program and, ideally, higher rates of completion. Finally, the study examined how social media is integrated into VET assessment, and how these forms of assessment are accommodated by the audits that determine whether the training organisation is meeting the required national standards. In summary, this study is designed to extend understanding of and in turn to improve the practices associated with, the use and opportunities for social media in VET programs. To date, very few studies have investigated the use and impacts of social media in the VET sector, with the majority focused upon the higher education sector.


These three aims and the associated research questions were addressed through interviews and small group discussions with 32 VET teachers and 70 students; six employers were also interviewed. The sample came from three training organisations: Federation Training of TAFE Victoria; the Open Training and Education Network (OTEN) of TAFE NSW; and TAFE Queensland. These institutes were identified through an initial search of the websites of registered training organisations (RTOs) to reveal the prevalence of social media and other new technologies in VET. Gaining samples of VET teachers, students and employers allowed a 360-degree view of the perceived advantages and disadvantages of the use of numerous forms of social media.

Key findings

Types of social media: views of teachers, students and employers

The first aim was to understand the use and types of social media in VET programs. Teachers reported that several forms of social media were being used, with YouTube and Facebook the major forms of social media adopted by VET teachers and their students.

YouTube fits well with the objectives of institutions to design and increase the use of self-paced online learning. YouTube also allows the teacher or student to use privacy settings to ensure control over the audience’s ability to view students’ videos, which are often concerned with their performing a task or job.

The popularity of Facebook for social networking has encouraged teachers and their students to use Facebook as an educational tool. The major benefits from Facebook cited by VET teachers are its accessibility, ease of use and being free. In particular, Facebook groups allow VET teachers to provide updates, announcements, photos and videos, and it creates a space for students to ask and answer questions. Students are being connected with each other and so begin sharing and collaborating, despite being in different year levels in the same qualification, of different ages and having different life experiences. It is this ability to connect across all types of students that is encouraging VET organisations to use social media as a dominant feature in their fast-growing online and distance learning programs.

Interestingly, Facebook is being introduced into VET courses in three ways. Firstly, some organisations have established an institutional Facebook site, which is used by teachers and the online and distance students. Secondly, closed Facebook groups are being set up and administered by VET teachers and, finally, the students themselves are setting up Facebook groups for their courses and inviting fellow students in the same course to join.

While YouTube and Facebook are the major forms of social media currently used by VET teachers and their students, several other tools are also being trialled. However, the consensus among the teachers interviewed is that to date they have not been very successful. Blogs have some use for students publishing their experiences. Teachers and students reported limited use of Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Pinterest.

Different forms of social media appear to be attractive to different types of VET students. Many of the VET qualifications that require students to develop an ability to work and cooperate in teams with diverse people (for example, marketing, business, event management, social work, community work, and nursing) appear more likely to incorporate Facebook and Twitter into their VET courses. Trade teachers in apprenticeship programs reported that their apprentices were major users of YouTube, as the videos show the performance of practical skills, often over several steps.

Employers, like the VET teachers and students, were highly supportive of the use of social media for training. They were impressed by the quality of the online materials being used and the integration of the numerous forms of social media used to engage and regularly communicate with their apprentices or trainees while they were on the job. Employers had no major issues about their employees accessing social media while on the job, as long as the reasons for accessing a YouTube video, a Facebook group or Twitter were explained to them. In particular, employers emphasised the benefits flowing from the integration of social media into the learning management system; for example, students could be reminded of particular deadlines, dates or submissions via social media without too much disruption to their workplaces. As a result, the frequent transitions between work and TAFE went more smoothly, with less interference and less downtime in production.

Impact on students’ levels of interest, engagement and completions

The second aim of the study was to investigate the qualitative and more quantitative evidence on the perceived impact of the use of social media on the training of students. In the interviews, many VET teachers indicated that they believed the use of social media was resulting in more engaged students and higher levels of completions. Their data were anecdotal but also based on observations over time. However, some teachers were much less enthusiastic, arguing that they could not see any real improvements in engagement, attendance, grades or completions.

To date, only a few VET institutions have attempted to study in a more quantitative way the relationship between the use of social media and increased levels of engagement, improved attendance and higher completion rates. Those few studies that show higher completion rates in online courses using Facebook groups might be indicative of students’ higher levels of engagement in their studies. In addition, there was evidence that teacher input into Facebook groups possibly promoted more focused and course-specific discussions, with these contributing to the higher completion rates. Also, a small survey as part of the current study found that the majority of surveyed students agreed that their use of social media had encouraged them to be more engaged and interested in their training, and they were also learning more from other students.

Social media, assessment and institutional audits

The third and final issue examined in the current report was the attitudes to and use of social media in VET assessment. The adoption of technologically enabled delivery and assessment does raise challenges for assessment practices and procedures: the validity and reliability of assessment, authentication, and the need to train and develop staff involved in these new forms of assessment.

Based on the interviews and small group discussions with students in this study, social media currently is at best a small part of a larger assessment task. Teachers report many reasons for this lack of use: a lack of institutional support for the use of any evidence gathered from outside the learning management system; a lack of technological support for teachers wanting to use social media, including little formal training; and the conservative attitudes of teachers about the use and experimentation with new forms of technology. Further, although e-assessment guidelines are now available, auditors do not appear to be showing a strong level of support for any forms of technologically enabled assessment.

Next steps

This study is part of an increasing number of investigations into how social media might be used to promote greater levels of interest, engagement and collaboration among learners. However, like much of the research to date, this study is small and exploratory. VET researchers can play an important role in contributing to this debate by completing larger-scale and more longitudinal projects into the impacts of social media upon VET learners, where it is used in their training.

The current study reveals that future VET research needs to investigate further the advantages and disadvantages of different types of social media, its impacts across different types of VET students, by delivery mode (for example, traditional delivery versus online and distance learning), and by levels of teacher input and support. Furthermore, as numerous forms of social media are being used in the same VET qualification, we need to better understand how the combination of different social media might have different types of impacts.


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