A Millennial’s Perspective on Learning, Education, Social Media, & Technology

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Millennials are the emerging mainstay of our modern workforce. However, we all have all sorts of perceptions and preconceptions about this generation. As an educator and a social media professor, I am always interested in learning more about how this generation perceives learning, technology, and social media.

I had the honor to engage in an hour-long conversation with a recent college graduate, Emily Hayes (@emercis), regarding learning, technology, and social media. Emily told stories and shared insights that helped me understand my teaching practice from a new perspective.

If you are a professor or educator, many of your students probably belong to the Millennial generation. Please watch the replay of our interview or read the highlights here, because it will make you think twice about your teaching practice or pedagogical approach. I promise you.

Who’s Emily Hayes

Emily Hayes is a recent college graduate from the University of Louisville, with a major in Strategic Communication. Emily has a passion for learning and social media marketing. I frequently see and interact with Emily on various Twitter chats that I join regularly. It always feel refreshing to see a student who is so passionate about learning and takes her education and future in her own hands. Emily has just completed an internship position at a Marketing and Advertising Agency. She is about to start a new chapter in her life as a communication professional.

Here’s a recap of my conversation with Emily.

What’s the most popular tool among millennials nowadays?

✅ Instagram is the clear winner. Honestly, I was shocked to hear this from Emily, because I had always been under the impression that Snapchat was the most popular social site among millennials. Clearly, I might be wrong. As Emily shared,

I have absolutely become obsessed with Instagram, especially since they introduced Stories. It is a lifestyle. I think Instagram is probably the most popular app among my demographic. There are still definitely some people who hold fast and tight to Snapchat. But, my Snapchat feed has slowly dwindled. People haven’t been posting as consistently. I have messaged people on Snapchat before. They took a couple of days to message me back. So, most people I know have migrated to Instagram basically for everything.

Isn’t this eye opening? It certainly was for me. This helps me see even more of the value of an interview I did with Dr. Paige Brown Jarreau regarding how she uses Instagram as a teaching and research tool to engage her students.

Are “digital natives” also digitally savvy in terms of the strategic usage of social media?

What’s your answer to this question? I know for me, I had always assumed that my students were more digitally savvy than me. However, this perception is only partially accurate.

Emily seemed to be okay with the label of “digital natives,” as she “cannot remember her family not having a computer.” To her, technology tools have always been closely linked to learning. She associated “learning with having her laptop with her.”

However, when it comes to the strategic usage of social media for business purposes, Emily shared a different story.

I think we know how to use social media and we adapt to them quickly. We have the technical skills. but I don’t think every millennial or person my age knows the strategy to it. Most of my peers use social media as a personal and casual thing without putting much thought into it.

In other words, it is probably safe to say that it’s a myth that students, just because they are born in the digital age, know how to use social media strategically and intuitively for business purposes. Students need to be trained by qualified teachers to learn the ins and outs of the strategic and business usage of social media as business tools. Emily’s perspective also confirmed my own research findings.

Using social media as a way to engage students and to teach?

Social media is an entertainment, storytelling, and business communication tool. Can social media be used as a pedagogical tool? Can teachers use social media to teach and to engage their students?

The answer is absolutely yes.

For example, Emily shared how her social media class, taught by an amazing professor, Karen Freberg, Ph.D., uses Twitter to post assignments and to encourage students to engage with one another on the platform. Emily believed such a teaching method makes her more interested in learning. As she said,

Teaching through the example and the platform that you want students to learn is really a good way to get students engaged on that platform, to understand how they are using it, and why they are using it. … If you can use social media as a teaching tool that is experiential, that really is a smart way to teach.

Amen! My biggest takeaway from this powerful insight that Emily shared is that teachers, specifically those who are teaching social media marketing, need to walk the talk. One of the biggest mistakes that I learned in my early teaching career is that I didn’t walk the talk.

Emily shared that her social media class felt almost like an internship. It helped her develop the necessary skills and knowledge base that can be applied to workplace and internships immediately. You can click here to see a copy of her team’s term project where they served as social media consultants for a minor league baseball team in Louisville.

Should professors share their personal lives on social media?

Social media started as a social channel, where people can stay connected and socialize with one another. When professors are incorporating social media platforms into classes as a pedagogical tool, where to draw the line between posting professional VS personal content? Will students be annoyed when they see that professor share their personal lives?

Emily, for example, loved it when she sees that professors are posting things about their personal lives. As she said,

Social media is supposed to be a social network. It is nice to see that professors are passionate about things on social media. Even if they are having a bad day, I don’t think it is a bad thing to come off as a genuine individual on social media. I enjoy seeing professors post things that are unrelated to their work.

In my experience, sharing my personal life on social media has helped humanize me as a professor. My students seemed to get to know me better and they seemed to enjoy that closer relationship with me. However, I keep my sharing of personal life to a minimum (maybe 10%), especially during the semester. Most of the content I share is professional.

Should Professors teaching social media classes be on social media?

This is a compelling question that I have personally asked myself a lot. During the earlier stage of my teaching career, if I were to answer this question, my answer was probably no. However, I quickly realized that not walking my talk was the biggest mistake I made in my teaching career.

How about you? What’s your answer to the above question?

Emily’s answer to the question seemed to be yes. As she shared,

I don’t mind if a professor is not on social media. However, if you are teaching a social media class, you should have some sort of a social media presence in order to substantiate what you are talking about. Of course, you have the Ph.D behind you and everybody respects that. But, students would feel you are more in touch with what’s happening if they can see that you have an active presence on social media. That shows lots of passion behind the knowledge.


If you are an educator, I hope you benefited from hearing this millennial’s perspective on social media, technology, and learning. I certainly did. Let’s end this discussion with a powerful quote from Emily,

Social media and technology don’t replace being in the classroom. It creates multiple dimensions of conversations, and engagement that you have between students and professors. I know that I can always DM my social media professor at 9 PM if I want to share something with her, whereas I don’t feel comfortable doing the same thing with other professors or don’t feel that connected to other professors. Following a professor on social media makes the professor seem a lot more accessible to me. I connect with the professor as a professor and a person.

Exactly! Social media and technology can NEVER replace professors in the classroom. However, they add additional dimensions to learning and can substantially amplify what a professor can do or offer in a class. It helps create a virtual community of learning, sharing, and knowledge creation that transcends the physical walls of a class.

Ai Addyson-Zhang is a professor, speaker, live streamer, social media expert, and digital learning consultant. She connects the dots between social media and education. Ai is on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram @AiAddysonZhang. She’s the host of a weekly Facebook live show, Classroom Without Walls — Using Technology to Reimagine Education, on every Wednesday at 5PM, EST.

Thanks to Dan Addyson

Dr. Ai Addyson-Zhang | #ClassroomWithoutWalls

Written by

👩🏻‍🏫Professor turned entrepreneur 🔹Help ambitious parents raise future-ready children🗞Featured on Forbes ✍️Subscribe https://www.classroomwithoutwalls.ai/

Dr. Ai Addyson-Zhang | #ClassroomWithoutWalls

Written by

👩🏻‍🏫Professor turned entrepreneur 🔹Help ambitious parents raise future-ready children🗞Featured on Forbes ✍️Subscribe https://www.classroomwithoutwalls.ai/

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