Social Media and Social Bonding in Students' Decision-Making Regarding Their Study Path

Social Media and Social Bonding in Students' Decision-Making Regarding Their Study Path

Amir Dirin (Haaga-Helia University of Technology, Finland), Marko Nieminen (Aalto University, Finland) and Ari Alamäki (Haaga-Helia University of Applied Science, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/IJICTE.2021010106
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Students are often unsure of how to select the right study path at a higher educational institution. They either lack knowledge of a proposed study path or they do not manage to learn more before making their selection. Universities often apply various approaches, such as printed or online course curricula, to facilitate the selection process. Yet these approaches are often inefficient because they do not attract students' attention, or they provide ambiguous descriptions. Moreover, these descriptions are not provided to students through the right channels. The study reveals that students use different digital channels in various contexts to perform their educational activities. The study reveals that the use of social media applications in an educational context results in social bonding among students. The results of the study can help educators select appropriate channels that match students' expectations of a reliable and trustworthy interaction medium.
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Smart device usage at educational institutions has evolved at a rapid pace. The use of technology in mobile learning (M-learning) application design has also evolved quickly. Dirin and Nieminen (2018) divided the evolution of M-learning user experience into three distinct eras. A technology-focused approach (Era 1) is no longer sufficient for persuading learners to use an M-learning application. Neither does ease-of-use nor usability offer sufficient distinctive characteristics for successful M-learning services (Era 2). In the third and current era of M-learning user experience, the emphasis has moved toward engaging and emotional factors. In addition to M-learning applications, students widely apply various digital channels in their educational activities.

Students’ study path selection after their first semester is often dependent on concerns, for example, about how they can improve their knowledge, their judgement of their own competence, and the extent to which they feel the university offers them the skills they need for their chosen career. Salmela and Read (2017) demonstrated that students often start university with high motivation, but over time, their motivation levels drop and feelings of stress and pressure develop. The students’ mental models are constructed according to their learning experiences (Piaget & Brown, 1985), in which digital channels play a crucial role.

A Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture (2010) report indicated that 75% of high school graduates apply to attend higher educational institutions immediately after graduation, of which only 40% get through on the first attempt and the rest gain admission on the second and third attempts. In addition, many factors influence whether students successfully and smoothly graduate from higher education on time (Määttä & Uusiautti, 2011).

The aim of this study was to reveal students preferred digital channels and social media when selecting their course and study paths . Skaniakos, Penttinen, and Lairio (2014) demonstrated that peer monitoring is an important part of pastoral care for first-year students in higher education. Määttä and Uusiautti (2011) presented four factors that impact one’s study path: first, the experience, habit, and ability that students develop during their studies; second, the instructors’ mentoning skills; third, the curriculum; and fourth, the university community in general, such as the studying atmosphere and study culture.

Digital channels and social media have become important means of interacting in contemporary life. We use these channels for communication, socializing, decision-making, and taking effective actions. Digital touchpoints, such as websites, email, search engines, social media, video content communities, discussion forums, and blogs (Hallikainen, Alamäki, & Laukkanen, 2018), enable individuals to interact with each other, access consumer content, and perform numerous other actions. Students at higher educational institutions often utilize these channels at various stages of their studies. For example, they may use them for learning, communication, or research purposes; for getting acquainted with new students; for learning about forthcoming courses; and for skill development (e.g., Dirin, Alamäki, & Suomala, 2019; Nguyen, Muilu, Dirin, & Alamäki, 2018).

Digital touchpoints and channels are used often in marketing and advertising to evoke emotions. Straker and Wrigley (2016) demonstrated that engaging with customers through digital channels has a significant impact on growth and revenue. In an educational context, we lack a proper systematic approach for using digital channels to assist students in their educational experiences, including study path selection. In this study, “digital channels” were defined as all those online and mobile applications and services that students use to engage with peers and educational institutions to communicate, perform education-related tasks, or socialize. Furthermore, “study path” encompassed the study models that students required to complete their B.Sc. degree program. The aim of this study was to reveal the digital touchpoints and channels that students in the Business Information Technology (BITe) department of the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) often apply to engage with peers about different study path options. Figure 1 presents the typical process of study path selection at a Nordic institution of higher education.

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