Critical Review: Tower et al (2014)


Tower, M., Latimer, S. and Hewitt, J. (2014) ‘Social networking as a learning tool: Nursing students’ perception of efficacy’ In: Nurse Education Today 34: 1012 – 1017


Social media and social networking have become ubiquitous marketing tools over the past decade (Rapp et al, 2013). However, Bal et al (2015) highlight that, although many undergraduates are very familiar with these platforms for social and entertainment purposes, their use as learning tools can present challenges. The current evidence base does not suggest a consensus on its value for this purpose.


Tower et al (2014) investigated Facebook usage as a targeted, short-term intervention for supporting nursing students with revision for a biosciences exam. Student nurses perceive biosciences to be difficult; exam-related anxiety is commonplace (McVicar et al, 2014). An investigation into how best to support and motivate students while revising off-campus led to a student suggestion that a Facebook group would be a good choice, due to ease of access, and the common use of this platform to procrastinate during revision.

The study highlights the potential for Facebook to promote staff-student interaction in a supportive extracurricular environment, whilst identifying several drawbacks which should be considered before attempting replication.

Similarities exist between the reported perceptions of difficulty and anxieties biosciences exams, and those experienced in the Medication Dosage Calculations exams at the University of Essex. The findings are therefore relevant to my potential future practice in supporting students with exam revision.


The study is informal and observational and does not always follow standard structure and methodology as outlined by Coughlan et al (2007) and Ryan et al (2007). It aims to measure students’ perceptions of Facebook as a revision tool; however, it does not address the question of how student satisfaction metrics compare with other valid indicators of quality learning. Follow-up research could include a cross-sectional or longitudinal cohort study in which exam results of students who used the intervention are compared with those who did not. Alternatively, a phenomenological study linking student perceptions to the impact of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977) and other learning theories described in the literature review might be valuable.

The study highlights some of the advantages of Facebook as a learning tool, along with drawbacks and a good analysis of its limitations. However, the literature review does not specify the search parameters; there is no reference to key words or databases. The most recent citation is from 2010; a more clearly structured and current literature review might have promoted a more refined research question, exploring impact on learning as well as student satisfaction.

No theoretical framework is described, nor statistical tools identified. This is in keeping with the informal, inductive nature of the study, although arguably, it undermines its credibility in terms of rigour.

Data were collected via a descriptive, online survey, released after the students received their exam results; it contained both quantitative and qualitative elements. Survey questions were not available for scrutiny, which again, undermines the credibility of this paper as a robust and rigorous inquiry. Qualitative comments from students highlight several advantages, including the pragmatic observation that students use Facebook to procrastinate, and this intervention helps to keep them focussed and motivated. However, a more nuanced analysis of the well-documented problems involving motivation and technology (Clark and Feldon, 2005) might also have been appropriate. Arguably, by providing students with ever-increasingly accessible and informal methods of learning, we may be undermining the development of sustained, critical engagement with complex material (Kirschner and van Merriënboer, 2013).

Several limitations are identified. All posts were replicated on an official VLE to include non-Facebook users. The authors also suggest a possible reluctance to engage due to concerns about appearing to lack knowledge, and potential impact on grades. Finally, a low response rate (24%) is noted, which, whilst not uncommon in student perception surveys, might have been mitigated by running the survey in term-time.


In conclusion, this study raises, but does not adequately answer, several questions surrounding the potential use of Facebook and other social networking platforms as self-directed learning tools. Future research should include:

  • Structured and replicable literature reviews, defining prominent and emerging themes
  • Fully developed research questions, with potential to develop hypotheses for future investigations
  • Justified, established research methodologies, including a data collection approach designed to generate a high response rate.
  • Structured approach to quantitative data analysis

Further research into the pedagogical value of social networking tools is needed. In the current educational and political climate, it is tempting to pursue innovative strategies to attract high student satisfaction ratings. However, current evidence exploring the complex relationship between student satisfaction and student achievement indicate that this is unlikely to be an effective long-term approach. Quality research could also evaluate the potential of informal social networking platforms for supporting retention and transfer of learning.

 Reference List

Bal, A.S., Grewal, D., Mills, A. and Ottley, G. (2015) ‘Engaging students with social media’ In: Journal of Marketing Education 37(3): 190 – 203

Bandura, A. (1977) ‘Self-efficacy: towards a unifying theory of behavioural change’ In: Pscyhological Review 84(2): 191 – 215

Clark, R.E. and Feldon, D.F. (2005) ‘Five Common but Questionable Principles of Multimedia Learning’ In: Mayer, R.E. (ed) The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (97- 116) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Coughlan, M., Cronin, P. and Ryan, F. (2007) ‘Step-by-step guide to critiquing research. Part 1: quantitative research’ In: British Journal of Nursing 16(11): 658 – 663

Kirschner, P.A. and van Merriënboer, J.J.G. (2013) ‘Do Learners Really Know Best? Urban Legends in Education’ In: Educational Psychologist  48(3): 169-183 Online at:
McVicar, A., Andrew, S, Kemble. R, (2014)  ‘Biosciences within the pre registration (pre-requisite) curriculum: An integrative literature review of curriculum interventions 1990-2012’ In: Nurse Education Today 34 (4):560-568

Rapp, A., Bietelspacher, L., Grewal, D. and Hughes, D. (2013) ‘Understanding social media effects across seller, retailer, and consumer interactions’ In: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 41(5): 547-566

Ryan, F., Coughlan, M. and Cronin, P. (2007) ‘Step-by-step guide to critiquing research. Part 2: qualitative research’ In: British Journal of Nursing 16(12): 738 – 744


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