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

Review of Literature

A number of nurse researchers and educators have published accounts about the potential of social media. Examples of social media reported within the nursing education literature have generally aligned thematically into three categories: expository commentaries outlining functionality or potential of social media; social media best practice recommendations and discussions of privacy, legality, and ethics within nursing education; and research studies exploring the efficacy or value of social media modalities in education. Each of these perspectives will be briefly explored.


Given the relative newness of the topic, expository commentaries outlining the functionality or potential of social media appear frequently in nursing literature. Grassley and Bartoletti (2009) discussed the use of blogs and wikis as part of nursing education, encouraging the use of these tools to facilitate interactive learning and engagement with learners. Billings (2009) summarized potential functionalities of blogs and wikis in continuing nursing education, outlining benefits within clinical settings to promote interprofessional collaboration, facilitate peer support, and assist in project management.

Twitter® and micro-blogging are highlighted as innovative approaches to knowledge sharing and distribution (Bristol, 2010; Dreher, 2009; Skiba, 2007). Twitter® functionalities make it a versatile tool for continuing nursing education, including the use of hashtags within conference/workshop settings and as a framework to organize class discussions (Bristol, 2010). Hashtags are words prefixed with the "#" symbol that identify topics or groups within social media sites (i.e., Twitter®). The more a hashtag is utilized and repeated by others to denote a specific topic/event (e.g., #NI2012; #election2012), the greater the level of 'trending (visibility of a specific topic/event) can occur (Hashtag, n.d.). For instance, the hashtag of #nc2010 was utilized during a three day conference to assist in aggregating messages related to the event, and build a conference-wide Twitter® discussion (Bristol, 2010). Twitter® used as a teaching tool was evaluated by Mistry (2011) in asynchronous and synchronous class environments. Students were asked to watch videos of clinical scenarios and then communicate via Tweeting about the evolving patient condition. Student response was positive. Tweeting allowed them to reflect, discuss, interact with classmates, review, make decisions, and reinforce learning.

Facebook® and other social networking sites hold potential for integration within education and research in safe and productive ways (Amerson, 2011; Wink, 2011). Platforms such as podcasts and virtual reality simulators (e.g., Second Life®) have also been discussed as potential modalities from which to build further interactivity into education and facilitate various learning styles (Ahern & Wink, 2010; Delaney, Pennington, & Blankenship, 2010; Hansen, 2008; Maag, 2006; McCartney, 2006; Schmidt & Stewart, 2010; Skiba, 2005). For example, Schmidt and Stewart (2010) used Second Life® in an online accelerated community health nursing course to sensitize students to various public health issues. Students were provided access to a developed Second Life® environment in the form of a restaurant, and by using the virtual learning environment were able to 'inspect' the premises for potential public health infractions.

Best Practices

A number of recent publications focus on best practices and legal/ethical considerations of social technology use. Fraser (2011) outlined best practices related to social media usage by nurses (and students), including various topics related to professionalism, knowledge generation, and developing a functional online reputation. Haigh (2010) presented a number of salient and relevant issues related to increased use of social technologies within education, focusing upon topics such as third-party material ownership and confidentiality/privacy online. A number of professional and regulatory bodies offer direction through various documents related to appropriate use of social media technology (ANA, 2011; College of Nurses of Ontario, 2011; College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia [CRNBC], 2012). The CRNBC (2012) have listed nine recommendations for nurses who elect to use social media, encompassing discussion of competence, image, confidentiality, privacy, boundaries, expectations, integrity, policy, and accountability.


Morley (2011) explored the use of wikis among 69 nursing students, 45% of whom indicated that they perceived wikis to be valuable for communication. Forbes and Hickey (2010) reported in a study of 170 nursing students, "students overwhelmingly perceived that podcasting had a positive impact on their learning in the course (92.4%)" (p. 226). Contrary to concerns that providing podcasts of lecture material would decrease class attendance, only 11 students (15%) reported they had opted to not attend class (at least once) because of the availability of the podcast. A survey of 644 first-year and 413 graduating health science and nursing students found that Facebook® was used by 77% of students, 18% used LinkedIn®, and only 7% used Twitter® (Giordano & Giordano, 2011). The results of the study demonstrated that many health professional students currently utilize social media platforms during their education, and this mode of communication may provide a "unique opportunity in social networking…or universities if they are willing to think creatively" (p. 80).