How Social Media are Changing the Worlds of Work, Education and Leisure

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  • Social media are not a pure media phenomenon. They are changing the way that people in knowledge societies work, communicate and learn.
  • This is challenging the role of schools and teachers: They should prepare their students for a working life afflicted by social media.
  • Social media are combining features of individual communication (no one disturbes you) and mass communication (a lot of people can understand you), but show less restrictions than traditional mass media (like a newspaper).
  • This will change job profiles of "communication workers" (like journalist, teachers or trainers) but also that of almost every employee in the knowledge society.
  • School has to prepare students for a skilled and reflected use of social media. This is demanding "traditional" skills, but also ICT skills.


Topic 1: user generated content - yesterday and today

In the previous article, we argued that social media are empowering the user to create, alter and publish content online - we called it "user generated content". This chapter relates to how social media will change the way we work, communicate and learn. But - wait! - is user generated content really a new phenomenon?

Let's change to a historical perspective: If we argue that user generated content means that users ("everyday" people) could publish their ideas without technological or institutional limits we can find more examples:

  1. In medieval societies, the church was the only place to spread the dominant understanding of the world - the Bible. The priest was the "gatekeeper". The only one able to read the Latin written text and only one authorised for its interpretation and contextualisation in his society. Two innovations changed this dramatically: The translation of the Bible to national languages and the proliferation of book printing by the invention of Johannes Gutenberg. This fostered a process very similar to user generated content: many more people were able to read, publish and interpret the bible – leading to wider discussions on the topics raised. This process lead to a reduced role for the church as the only source of wisdom - and to a dramatic change of the role of priests.
  2. A similar example could be found in modern journalism: In times of paper printed newspapers, the only way of communication between the editor and the reader was the letter to the editor. And the editor decided, which letters he wanted to publish. Today, each newspaper offers online discussion forums for each individual article. This has dramatically changed the way that journalists work. Around 20% of the daily working time of a journalist today is dedicated to communication with the readers. Journalists facilitate discussions, fight with improper comments, but also discuss with readers who know far more about the topic they write than the journalist knows themselves. As a result, the professional profile of the journalist has changed - from a gatekeeper to a facilitator.
  3. Think about how this process may change the professional profile of the teacher, trainer or lecturer! If students or pupils have the possibility to alter, comment and challenge documents, communication or events those "professional educators" are giving. As a result, the professional profile might change - from teacher to facilitator. There is in article in this curriculum dealing with pedagogical implications of this change.
  4. One could argue that women fighting for voting rights, the suffragettes, found the same challenge as today's youth in totalitarian countries with state controlled media: They could not address the public with their issues. The suffragette movement made use of flyers instead and tried to publish their ideas on posters. By these means, they were undergoing public censorship and established their own ways of publishing. This could be regarded as a pre-electronic form of user generated content.
Johannes Gutenberg's book printing can be understood as an enabler for user generated content. Picture is public domain. Source:
The woman voting campaign trusted in leaflets and posters as ways of user generated content. Picture is public domain. Source:
Social media changed the role of journalists: They now spend a lot of time "speaking" with their readers. The reader might even advance to a "co-author". Free image of
How may user generated content change the role of a teacher? Free image of

Those four examples show that user generated content is not an invention of the social media age and also shows that the implementation of users in the generation of "content" will change professional job profiles. This is already true for journalist and IT specialists, but it is also rising for all other "knowledge workers". Living in a digital, "knowledge society", will affect almost every job that your students might have in the future.

Topic 2: how user generated content changes work

1.) No rules Now it’s time to have a specific look on how user generated content changes (professional) labour and communication. For this we think of a knowledge worker (as a teacher, for example) as embedded in four contexts:

  1. The professional role. This context summarises aspects of your professional role, for example, your demographic features, your self understanding and professional knowledge and skills.
  2. Your function context. This context includes restraints by the way you work. Such restraints could be the structure of lessons, curricula or number of students.
  3. The structural context. Includes restraints that are given by the institution that you work in. For example, the rules of your school, holiday calendar or economic or administrative imperatives.
  4. The normative context. Summarises rules and restraints given by laws or ethics.

These four dimensions include a lot of rules that push you in a specific way of working and they include restraints that hinder you from actions that are not preferred by society in one way or another. In totalitarian states, these restraints are much heavier than in democratic states.

Now think of a life without these restraints, without costs for publication, without a headmaster telling you when you have to give a lesson, without institutional norms that say what is "good" or "bad" teaching. That is social media. When you are publishing in social media, no one is asking you if your communication is correct or whether you are earning enough money. There is no professional instance that is checking, correcting or "gatekeeping" your content. Formal laws (like copyright, for example) are just about to find their way into social media. But that is no comparison to the rules that the "offline" working life knows. This is one of the success factors of social media - they free "normal" people from the restraints of control systems (a school, a publishing house or a political system) and empower them to address other people.

2.) Everybody with everybody The second aspect of social media is that they support the cooperation of people. After being "freed" people (see above) from formal restraints, social media add another feature: They free people from technical restraints. Most social media are very easy to work with. While the early Internet was very difficult to use (there were no windows and mouse clicking, but rather skills in writing codes were required), social media need people to actively get involved. For that, they are lowering technical challenges of cooperation. Most social media work intuitively on the knowledge level that you have when you can use a word processing software (for example, Microsoft Word or pages) or a browser (Google or Safari).

The example from the journalist who is dedicating more and more time for discussion with his reader shows that social media are empowering readers to co-operate. This is already true for the ICT industry, where programmers in different offices are working together on one "product". The best example for such a co-operation is the wikipedia, which is edited co-operatively by a large number of authors and editors. Pedagogical settings are making use of this and empower the learner to actively bring in their own knowledge into a learning community.

These two principles - "No rules" and "Everybody with everybody" - have dramatically changed they way that - for example - IT professionals are working. But in the same way that IT professionals or journalists are implementing other people's ideas in their work, most employees will do so in the near future. Future working life will be influenced by online cooperation of people via social media. The "content production process" will be more and more a co-creation process of people with different backgrounds, working together on one topic. This is demanding for skills such as facilitation abilities, tolerance and communication competences.

Topic 3: how user generated content changes education

Social media affects education on three levels: The learner, the teacher and the content. Let us consider the content first.

1.) The content As described above, content in social media is created by several people in a distributed online co-creation process. It does not have to be. In most social media, only 10 per cent of the members are actively creating content, while 90 % are watching. A "standard" article in the English Wikipedia site has been edited by several hundred authors in its life time. This principle can be made versatile for educational purposes: If you search the web, you will find hundreds of examples of schools using social media in order to make their students work on tasks or assignments together. The idea is that several students support each other with specific competences and create a solution for the given tasks as a team.

2.) The learner The idea behind this approach is to empower students to work together with their colleagues on a given task. This relates to a learning theory that is "putting the student in the centre" and fostering his problem solving competences. You can learn more about this approach in another article. To follow this approach, students' competences are challenged: They need competences in communication, facilitation, group leading and negotiation. This reflects the process of user generated content - it is relying on the individual competences of all partners, but challenges individual communication skills.

3.) The teacher This learning process is challenging the role of the teacher, too. The old phrase "from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side" is even more true if a teacher is implementing the approach of user generated content into his or her pedagogics. A teacher should support their students in the partnerships that work together on "content".

The web is full of examples of online educational resources. Our resources section offers a pre-selected overview. A very popular example are universities that support open lectures and facilitate student to student interaction:

What is a massive open online course?

The example illustrates the interplay of the principles of easy publishing of content and learner involvement. Though it refers to a very high standard of lectures (at Stanford University level), it can be used as an inspiration of social media use in the (school) classroom.


If you want to prepare your students for a working life that is shaped by social media, you could facilitate a session that simulates the co-creation of content in an occupational setting. Let's take a business meeting with a presentation as an example. Your students should prepare a presentation about some topic for their company. One way of doing this would be to meet and work together on a presentation on one computer. But a social media approach would build on a platform that every student can access to alter the presentation. One free platform for presentations is Prezi, which I take as an example, because it is free, easy to use and offers a lot of interesting designs. In Prezi, you can create a presentation and share this with other users. Each user can change the presentation. The student team can assign their tasks within their working group. For example, each member could design one chapter of the presentation or some could be responsible for design while others write the text.

  1. Go to
  2. Create an account
  3. Create a new Prezi. There is a tutorial on the platform:
  4. You can invite others to work on your Prezi by clicking on "share".

The interesting point of this session is the evaluation. You can ask:

  1. How did you distribute the work in your team?
  2. Which difficulties did you experience, and what went well?
  3. In how far is this creation process different than working together on one computer?

There is another article in this curriculum dealing with online presentation techniques.


This article has illustrated how teachers can use social media in classroom teaching. But social media are an excellent media for teachers' vocational training and knowledge exchange, too! Our example is Twitter: Twitter is a short message service. You can publish up to 140 characters ("tweet") in a specific channel - via your computer or smart phone. Other users can read this channel and "follow" your tweets - on their computers or smart phones. A lot of teachers are using this to publish their ideas and experiences. This is a very hands-on introduction of using twitter for teachers.

How to use twitter for self learning:

  1. create an account on Twitter:
  2. search for a topic of your interest in the "search" field
  3. You can "follow" people that are interesting for you. Just click on topics and browse according to your interests.


(Collection of useful resources (websites, videos, books etc.))

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