Social Media Use in Nursing Education

Terri L. Schmitt, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, Susan S. Sims-Giddens, EdD, RN, Richard G. Booth, MScN, RN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2012;17(3) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


As technological advances continue to expand connectivity and communication, the number of patients and nurses engaging in social media increases. Nurses play a significant role in identification, interpretation, and transmission of knowledge and information within healthcare. Social media is a platform that can assist nursing faculty in helping students to gain greater understanding of and/or skills in professional communication; health policy; patient privacy and ethics; and writing competencies. Although there are barriers to integration of social media within nursing education, there are quality resources available to assist faculty to integrate social media as a viable pedagogical method. This article discusses the background and significance of social media tools as pedagogy, and provides a brief review of literature. To assist nurse educators who may be using or considering social media tools, the article offers selected examples of sound and pedagogically functional use in course and program applications; consideration of privacy concerns and advantages and disadvantages; and tips for success.


Social media is a platform that can assist nursing faculty to help students gain greater understanding of communication, professionalism, healthcare policy, and ethics. Merriam-Webster dictionary (2012) defines social media as a "form of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content" (para. 1). Social media is more than an emerging technology platform or cultural trend, but a method of communication that is changing the way individuals and organizations throughout the world transmit and receive information. The meaning and value of social media continue to be debated among business leaders, computer science scholars, educators, and users.

The key purpose of social media is engagement of others through electronic means, most often supported through internet sites or software. These are called social networking sites and involve people who 'follow' or are 'friends' with each other, meaning that people linked to a person can see his or her information and updates. Within these sites people also share their lists of followers and interact to exchange information, knowledge, opinions, and other forms of communication (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Technological advances continue to fuel the development of social media as a mechanism for knowledge and information exchange within local, national, and global communities.

Nurses serve as significant knowledge brokers within healthcare systems, among healthcare disciplines, and with patients, families, and communities (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation [RWJF], 2010; Schmitt & Lilly, in press); therefore, nurse educators are beginning to explore sound methods of application of social media into nursing curricula. The rapid growth of technology has kept nursing and other healthcare disciplines scrambling to keep pace. In the United States, the Technology Informatics Guiding Educational Reform (TIGER) competencies; TIGER educational initiative; American Nurses Association (ANA) social media toolkit; and nursing informatics toolkit developed by the National League for Nursing (NLN) assist educators in developing nursing informatics courses that include sound social media content such as blogging or engagement through a medium such as Facebook® (ANA, 2011; Hebda & Calderone, 2010; The TIGER Initiative, n.d.; NLN, n.d.). Similarly in Canada, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) (2012) recently released a faculty eHealth toolkit to help educators to embed informatics content within undergraduate education. Other resources both within and outside of nursing continue to be developed to aid nursing faculty to prepare nursing students for future demands (Center for Disease Control, 2011; Webicina, 2012).

Roughly 80% of both Americans and Canadians currently use the Internet, and between 70 to 80% of these users seek health information data through this medium (Pew Research Center, 2011; Statistics Canada, 2010, 2010b). Equally impressive, the number of healthcare facilities that make use of social media grew 210% between 2009 and 2011 (Bennett, 2011). Of the millennial generation (those who will come to adulthood during this millennium), 75% use some form of social media. This generation views integration and use of technology into their lives as a defining characteristic of their generation (Pew Research Center, 2010). Social media is not only a means of sharing social information, but also used to find employment; create a professional voice in topic areas or on professional issues; project and research collaboration; and disseminate and gather of professional information (RWJF, 2010; Schmitt & Lilly, in press).

In general, nurses are late adopters of technology, with increasing age being an important contributing factor to this delay (PRWeb, 2011). In 2012, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) noted that the average age of nursing professors was over 60 years, associate professors over 57 years, and assistant professors over 51 years. In addition, risks of policy or privacy violation, time, cost, and lack of familiarity with technology continue as barriers for nursing faculty in adoption of new technology into curricula (National Council of State Boards of Nursing [NCSBN], 2011; Schmitt & Lilly, 2012). Given the presence of social media into the lives of so many North Americans and the barriers to adoption, the purpose of this article is to review current applications of social media in nursing education by providing examples of sound and pedagogically functional use. Advantages and disadvantages of social media use will be discussed as well as suggestions for curriculum integration and future research potential.