Social Media: Sending Nursing Education Viral

Social media is fast becoming an invaluable tool in nursing education. It provides a wealth of information, access to conference proceedings and practical advice on how to incorporate new research into practice. Social media actively engages nurses in their learning and gives them the opportunity to connect with an international nursing community.


It is hard to overestimate the impact of social media. In the relatively short period of time since its inception, social media has had an unbelievable influence in our lives. By its 11th birthday in March 2015, Facebook had 1.39 Billion users, 64% of which visit the site daily and nearly a quarter login at least five times per day (Bullas, 2014; Facebook, 2015).

Twitter has 288 million monthly active users who send out 500 million tweets per day in 33 different languages (Twitter, 2015; Wylie, 2014). Since Instagram’s launch in October 2010, over 30 billion photos have been uploaded to the site and approximately 70 million more are added each day (Instagram; 2015).


Evolution of education

As technology has progressed, so too has education evolved. Many adults would remember being taught how to find a book using the card index at the library. Others fondly recall having one set of encyclopaedias at home, which were the only source of information for homework projects, all of which had to be neatly handwritten.

Today, primary school students are swapping posters for PowerPoint presentations. Long gone are the old blackboards and dusters, replaced with smart tablets, smart phones, and even smart watches, creating a generation that will be more technologically savvy that any that have come before (Clifton & Mann, 2011; Duncan et al., 2013; Murray, 2013).

Nursing education

Nurses are expected to be technologically aware. The selection criteria for nursing positions over the last five to 10 years routinely listed “computer literacy” as a prerequisite. Nursing informatics is a growing specialty, working to develop information technology systems designed to improve patient outcomes, reduce nursing workloads and move towards those elusive ‘paperless’ wards and hospitals.

Nursing education has well and truly entered the digital age. Undergraduate and postgraduate courses are now routinely offered online. E-learning packages are the norm, if not mandatory education, in most health facilities or organisations (McCord & McCord, 2010).


E-Learning has begun to breakdown what the literature says are the most common barriers to nursing education – time, access and costs. Online learning packages, that can be completed anywhere and at any time, give nurses the flexibility to fit their learning in with their shift work, family life and other commitments. Nurses can now undertake e-learning in the comfort of their home, when it is convenient for them and without the costs associated with time off work or travel expenses (Ousley & Roberts, 2013).

E-learning has been widely adopted within nursing and it is on these foundations that social media education is built. Social media is simply the next step in the evolution of e-learning. Using social media as a tool in nursing education promotes engagement and collaboration, while providing resources, networking opportunities and innovative teaching techniques (Batt-Rawden et al., 2014; Logan, 2012; Murray, 2013; Shellenbarger & Robb, 2013).

Infrastructure and ease

There’s no need to be able to code or build your own web site. Social media infrastructure is already in place. Social media sites are readily accessible and do not require a great deal of expertise to use (McCord & McCord, 2010). A key feature of social media is the ‘point and click’ or intuitive design, whereby any lay person can come along and use it; over 90% of nurses currently report using social media in some form (Anderson, 2012; Ying Mai & Sanghee, 2014).

For people who may want tutorials in how to use specific sites, there are a vast number available, including specific information for nurses. For example, Paul McNamara, founder of the Meta4RN website, has great information available, including conference posters and journal articles with advice for nurses on how to use Twitter (McNamara, 2014).

If used sensibly, social media is fairly low risk. Nurses do need to be aware of maintaining professionalism online and abiding by applicable social media policies, but the beauty of social media is the ability to ‘lurk’. You can create profiles and, if you choose, simply sit back, watch, read and learn without ever typing or sending a word. This is a good way for the more reluctant nurses to start. As they begin to feel more comfortable and see how others interact, then they can choose to engage with others (Melnik, 2013; Moorley & Chinn, 2014).


Conference usage

Tweet reporting at conferences is a phenomenon which has gained momentum over the past few years. Tweet reporting is when conference delegates post the key messages of a speaker on Twitter, followed by a pre-set hashtag (#) associated with the conference. The hashtag lets others follow the posts and acts like a key word that people can search for – any tweets containing that hashtags will pop up (Ferguson et al., 2014).

As a delegate, tweet reporting is a great way to keep notes, including the name of the speaker, that become a useful reference. It also provides an opportunity to meet and chat with other people at the conference, and often ‘tweet meets’ (in person get togethers) are scheduled.

However, it’s the conferences that you are not able to attend that tweet reporting is so useful. Conferences can be expensive to attend and time off may be difficult to organise. By following a conference’s hashtag, you can follow the proceedings while sitting at home or on your lunch break. Some conferences even let you tweet questions directly to the key note speakers or other presenters (Ferguson et al., 2014; Wilson et al., 2014).


Social media is a great way to build and engage with your professional network, beyond simply having a CV posted on LinkedIn. Social media connects you with a truly global community. Teresa Chinn’s experience is a great example of how this can happen. She was working as an agency nurse in the UK but, not having one permanent workplace, began to feel isolated and started looking for a way to connect with other nurses. She turned to Twitter and created the “WeNurses” account (Moorley & Chinn, 2014).

From these humble beginnings, WeNurses now has nearly 14,000 followers from all over the world. It hosts regular tweet chats, with information posted beforehand, including articles, policies and protocols on the topic, which range anywhere from pressure area care to the ebola virus. These chats focus on evidence-based practice and how research can be translated into practice. Transcripts are also made available after the chat for those who could not participate. WeNurses has expanded and there are now individual WeCommunities for doctors, pharmacists and allied health professionals, as well as sub-nursing specialities such as mental health and disability nursing (Moorley & Chinn, 2014).

It is worth taking the time to build a social media network. If you have questions about nursing innovations, are curious about what other countries may be trialling or are looking for resources, your network can help. Networking on social media can create opportunities to collaborate with other health professionals or organisations and raise your professional profile (Booth, 2015; Schmitt et al., 2012; Wylie, 2014).



Social media allows the rapid sharing of research results. It can enhance the transition of research into practice. Again, by utilising your network you can find out how others have adopted practices, issues they may have come across, how they overcame potential barriers or objections and resources they used to help. If researchers are also on social media, you can contact them directly with questions you may have (Kung & Oh, 2014; Mistry, 2011; Wylie, 2014).


One of the biggest benefits of social media is access to resources. There are a number of useful, evidence-based resources available on social media for nurses and educators. Nurses are a very altruistic group, and there are many Australian nurses creating and sharing nursing education resources. These include blogs, podcasts, webinars and videos.

However, the sheer volume of information available can be overwhelming. Just like nurses once spent hours searching textbook after textbook to find information, it can now take the same amount of time clicking link after link to find what you need. However, the hashtags #FOAMed and #FOANed make relevant resources easier to find. #FOAMed, free open access medical education, was started by an Australian emergency doctor, Mike Cadogan (Nickson, 2014). He introduced the concept at the International Council for Educational Media conference in 2012 as a way to collate resources and make networking easier (Nickson & Cadogan, 2014).  The movement grew and went on to spawn SMACC, the Social Media and Critical Care Conference, the third of which was held in Chicago this year.

In 2014, this concept extended and the hashtag #FOANed began to spread – free open access nursing education. #FOANed resources include case studies, anatomy and physiology tutorials, monitoring protocols, a huge range of infographics, step-by-step guides and journal articles (Nickson, 2015; Spurr, 2015). #FOANed materials are bite size chunks of easily digestible information. They take the overwhelming, jargon-ridden 20 page paper, and break it down to the key points and implications for practice. Crucially, they should provide the reference back to the original research, and often give links to other discussions on the same subject or additional resources, allowing those interested to do further reading on the subject (Duffy, 2014; Kind et al., 2014; Miller, 2014). On the home front, social media gurus like Ian Miller from The Nurse Path and Jessie Spurr from Injectable Orange are heading the movement in Australia.


Unfortunately, not all the information posted on the internet has validity, especially when it comes to health care. At the moment, the majority of health information on the web is not written by health care practitioners and it is estimated only 37% of that health information is correct. Whilst most social media sites have policies against breaching copyright; they do not check the validity of content. Therefore, it is essential to check the validity and sources of the information you use and share (Anderson, 2012; Goldschmidt, 2013; Kind et al., 2014).



What makes social media such an effective educational tool is the ability to engage with others. Using social media for education is about more than just posting lectures notes online. It is time to shift away from simply creating content for others to passively absorb and instead focus on stimulating discussions and critical thinking (Hart, 2014; Steelman, 2014). How well the audience is engaged is as important as the quality of the content (Duncan et al., 2013). Through active engagement, learners process information and move short-term memories to long-term ones (Mistry, 2011). Furthermore, by generating discussions and giving nurses the opportunity to assert or defend their opinions helps nurses develop critical thinking skills (Bromley, 2010; Logan, 2012).


In a time and resource poor health care environment, social media is a tool nurses can ill afford to ignore in their continuing professional education. Social media guides nursing education towards collaboration and engagement and provides a wealth of learning and networking opportunities for nurses in all stages of their career.



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****** This article was based on a presentation I gave at the NEN 2015 Symposium and was originally published in the 2015 winter edition of ACN’s The Hive magazine *******



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