Social media for low-skilled adults: new opportunities

Interview. Using social media as a learning platform could be an outreach strategy for low-skilled adults.


Learning by using social media creates new opportunities for low-skilled adults, according to experts at the Dutch Foundation Expertise Centre This organization offers online learning contents and materials via the portal

Low-skilled adults are often seen as late adopters of many innovations and trends. However, this seems not to be the case for social media. In the last ten years, low-skilled adults in the Netherlands use more and more ICT at home but also in learning contexts. In other words, it is to an extent a democratic medium, cross-cutting different societal strata.

Ben Vaske (image above), director of believes that a smart use of social media could be an outreach strategy to extend learning to low-skilled adult learners.

– Social media is closely connected to the lives of low-skilled learners, but it is still not connected to a common use in education. Learning through social media has all the potential to function as a kind of a bridge towards increasing basic skills, Vaske believes

A less formal way to learn

Asynchronous social media can be used in order to help learners directly during their learning process, argues Vaske. For example by using WhattsApp or Facebook one can get an answer on a specific learning question as soon as possible. Another possible use is to teach via short movies without using complicated language. The materials should not be too comprehensive, but short and easy to understand. This offers new opportunities to make learning attractive and easier to access.

However, the technology itself is not important, but a smart use of it, based on learner needs.

– Based on learner needs, an educator can develop a learning path in which social media can be used in order to attract learners to develop their own learning process, Vaske says.

Step by step towards independent learning

The educator should create this learning path by developing a ‘step by step’ approach in order to determine which learning goals the learner would like to explore. By this the learner him- or herself has to take an initiative to learning.

– Self-directedness is actually one of the needs of the learner!

This ‘step by step’ approach can only be reached if the educator offers tailor-made information concerning new knowledge, information and skills. The professional should offer the chance to use social media during learning on a particular moment when it creates a surplus value for the learners.

– For example, developed an app for one of the ‘ Plus’  programs (literacy proficiency), which can be used to learn new words by playing with them. It really works!”

The “Social” in social media

Ben Vaske underlines the possibilities for cooperative learning, inherent in social media.

–“Social media” should be referred to in a social way!

An example of this cooperative way of learning is the use of Skype during one of’s learning programs ‘NLvaardig’, a language course. By using Skype, learners could be guided during their learning process and did not have to struggle at any point on their own.

Lack of studies into social media and adult learning

A recent European publication also showed that no recent studies concerning the use of social media in adult learning are available. Vaske believes that this should not stop educators from experimenting.

– ‘Learning by doing’ is necessary in order to determine how social media can be used during adult learning.

Don’t speak about barriers, but opportunities

According to Ben Vaske, there are of course also barriers to social media use with low-skilled learners: availability of hardware, bandwidth limitations, to name but a few.

– At the same time, mobile applications are much cheaper and also provide access to internet. Why not use them if most learners have a mobile phone?


Further reading: learning and social media

B.A.M. Vaske: ‘Lower educated adults learn basic skills online’. In: Adult literacy, second language, and cognition. I. Van de Craats, J. Kurvers & R. Van Hout (eds). Nijmegen: Centre for language Studies, November 2015.

B. Vaske en H. Winninghoff: M-leren en de mobiele telefoon, over het gebruik van mobiele technologie in het onderwijs. Rotterdam: Stichting Expertisecentrum, 2008.

Mobile Learning and Social Media in Adult Learning (European Commission, February 2015):

D.M. Chovanec and A. Meckelborg: Social Networking Sites & Adult Literacy Learning: Raising the Issues. Toronto: AlphaPlus, 2011:

S. Smythe and S. Frase: Incorporating digital technologies in adult basic education: Concepts, practices and recommendations. Toronto: AlphaPLus, 2012:

V. Vaiciuniene and V. Mazeikiene: Social Media in Adult Education: Insights gained from Grundtvig learning partnership project “Institutional Strategies Targeting the Uptake of Social Networking in Adult Education (ISTUS)”.’ In: Social Technologies, 2012, 2 (2), p. 473-482:


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