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Facebook as a learning tool? A case study on the appropriation of social network sites from mobile phones in developing countries


Address for correspondence: Mr Christoph Pimmer, learning.lab, Institute for Information Systems, School of Business, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, Peter Merian-Strasse 86, 4002 Basel, Switzerland. Email:


This exploratory research investigates how students and professionals use social network sites (SNSs) in the setting of developing and emerging countries. Data collection included focus groups consisting of medical students and faculty as well as the analysis of a Facebook site centred on medical and clinical topics. The findings show how users, both students and professionals, appropriate SNSs from their mobile phones as rich educational tools in informal learning contexts. First, unlike in previous studies, the analysis revealed explicit forms of educational content embedded in informal learning contexts in Facebook. Quizzes, case presentations and associated deliberate (e-)learning practices which are typically found in (more) formal educational settings were identified. Second, from a sociocultural learning perspective, it is shown how the participation in such virtual professional communities across national boundaries permits the announcement and negotiation of occupational status and professional identities.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • Social network sites (SNSs) support education-related learning practices.

What this paper adds

  • Learners appropriate SNSs sites from their mobiles as tools for a wide range of educational practices in informal learning contexts in developing/emerging countries.
  • The (e-)learning practices identified include deliberate engagement by users with explicit forms of educational content such as quizzes and case presentations as well as participation in virtual professional communities that allows for the announcement and negotiation of occupational status and professional identities.
  • Such technologies permit the students' educational engagement beyond local communities and facilitate loose connections to professional networks.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • Overhasty claims regarding the more systematic use or the integration of such informal (e-)learning in formal educational settings to support education and health in developing countries should be avoided. Instead, more systematic research is needed.