Another dot in the blogosphere?

Facebook vs. Twitter

Posted on: April 10, 2010

Steve Wheeler shared a thought after having a pre-conference Tweetup:

Quote of the evening must go to Simon Finch (@simfin) who said something along the lines of: ‘On Twitter people I don’t know let me know about stuff that really interests me. On Facebook people I do know tell me stuff I don’t want to know about’. OK, it was a signature piece of hilarious wordplay from Simon, and it made us all laugh out loud. But it also shows up what some people see as a contrast between the frivolous nature of Facebook, and the way Twitter is becoming a serious professional networking tool.

I grinned. I, too, use Twitter more than I do Facebook (FB).

But I also see a flaw in Simon’s generalization. You can get as much garbage in Twitter as you can in Facebook.


It is not so much about what the technology does for you as what you do with the technology. What a particular technology might do for you is termed its affordances. There are at least three aspects of affordances: technical, social, and in the case of education, pedagogical.

The technical affordances of Twitter include text inputs of up to 140 characters and embedding URLs linked to Websites, videos, photos, etc. You also get to choose who to follow and whether a follower gets to see your tweets.

The technical affordances of Facebook are greater. Amongst other things, you can post longer and richer messages on your wall, you can play online games and you can set up group spaces. Like Twitter, you can choose who to “friend” and the person you intend to follow decides whether or not to “friend” you back.

But the social and pedagogical use of the tool are what makes a real impact. Consider how a hammer is designed to drive nails into wood or a wall. But it can also be used to kill someone or shape a piece of art.

I know of teachers who want to use FB like an LMS. Pedagocially, they might be transferring the teacher-centred control, teacher-prepared resources and teacher-directed tasks of an LMS to FB.

I always ask these teachers why they want to do this if they already have an LMS in school. The standard reply is that their students are already on FB. I counter that the kids are intent on socializing in FB and that the teachers are not taking advantage of the social factor (when was the last time you socialized over PowerPoint?). They are also forgetting the distractions that FB brings. I then challenge them to design social forms of learning and/or build the distractions (e.g., games) into the learning process.

Twitter, by comparison, seems very limited. But I’d say that it provides less distraction because of its simplicity. That and the fact that the people I follow do not just answer Twitter’s original question “What are you doing?” or the current “What’s happening?” Instead, we focus more on answering the questions:

  • What do you want to know more about?
  • What did you learn?
  • What can you share?
  • What can you teach?

We have socially renegotiated what Twitter was designed to do.

By following just a few folks and reading the resources that come my way every day several times a day, I have established a personal learning network (PLN) like I have never experienced before. It is like attending several professional development sessions a day, all of which are rich and meaningful to me.

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