Social media is an excellent tool. It allows you to keep in touch and connected with friends and family, get fast updates on news, ‘stalk’ celebrities and even keeps you happily occupied on boring train rides. However, the type of information assessable and created on these platforms are not limited to updates on day-to-day events and scandals in Hollywood.

There is a great potential to learn new skills from social media, where people create content not just to show their daily lives, but demonstrate, document, and teach their specialities on these platforms. There is a wide variety of skills available. They range from hands-on skills such as home repairs, to soft skills such as marketing, and from artistic pursuits like watercolour to technical skills like programming. Of the free resources on social media, the three most significant platforms for self-learning would probably be Pintrest, Youtube and Facebook.

Pinterest operates like a virtual catalogue, where users can ‘Pin’ other websites and save them as ‘Pins’ onto Pinterest, as an image with an embedded link. They save these pins onto ‘Boards’ which are collections of a theme that the user can choose and name to their liking. This makes it easy to look for tutorials and tips for a field of interest since Pinterest users act like a collective of curators and one can often find Boards with a good collection of tutorials and inspiration.

Youtube’s video tutorials are particularly useful for those who prefer to see a ‘live’ demonstration. On such a visual platform, techniques can be demonstrated and explained simultaneously, meaning that practical skills can be understood more readily. Even with language barriers, viewers are still able to see a skill being executed by someone else. Users can also decide to follow Youtubers who produce high-quality tutorials and see their content more frequently on their homepage.

Facebook pages and groups are often excellent for generating discussion, and a community of people with similar interests can gather to discuss techniques and share experiences. Following a page and seeing posts on one’s feed is an easy way to learn about new ideas and techniques. Given that Facebook is becoming increasingly visual, video tutorials are not uncommon on this platform as well.

Given the ease of accessing lessons, tips and advice on developing skills online, how advisable is it to head online and learn a new skill? What about the traditional method of looking for classes and having a person teach? To briefly evaluate these two learning methods, here are some pros and cons of learning on social media.

Pro: No lesson fees!

Learning on social media often means that you do not have to pay for the lesson itself. People who upload tutorials and lessons on social media do not charge for their expertise. In fact, it is often good for businesses who supply the tools or materials to teach skills associated with their area for free. For instance, companies which sell beads may have Youtube videos teaching how to make beaded jewellery, or software companies may have tutorials explaining how to use their software.

Pro: Own Time Own Target Bliss.

Learning on social media means that you can take learning a skill at your own pace. There is no need to look for a time slot where you will be free to travel down to a location and take a class for three or four hours. You can simply hop onto an internet connection and look at a video on Youtube any time you have the time, or browse through Pinterest for a project you would like to try, anytime and anywhere. Smartphones mean that you can learn on the go, even during a daily commute.

Pro: So many new things!

There are many social media users. With many different people and many different topics which they blog, vlog, and or post online, there is an incredibly wide range of information online. If a skill is not common or very rare where you live, you can sometimes learn it by going online and doing some research. Following a certain topic on social media often makes it easier to ‘stumble’ across new information about the area you are interested in. This helps you to discover new techniques or important information about the skill set you are trying to learn, especially important for complete beginners. For instance, the meaning of cooking terminology like ‘sauté’ or ‘julienne’ may not be explicitly clear, but if you are a fan of cooking shows like Master Chef and their clips appear on your Facebook feed perhaps you will gradually understand more. (Or, you could Google it.)

Con: Hidden Costs.

Although the tutorial online may be free, the materials or tools needed often are not. As compared to going for a lesson with a teacher with everything necessary for the lesson, you may have to commit to buying a full set of tools and materials to use on your own, which may end up as dead weight if you discover that the skill or interest is not something you would like to continue with.

Con: Potentially unreliable or incomplete sources.

Social media being what it is, anyone can post and ‘teach’ about any subject. Even if they are not that qualified. Although it may be possible to do trace research and check the credentials and expertise of a person who is claiming to be a specialist in their field, social media users do not always check the sources of the content they are viewing. This is made even more difficult where there are conflicting opinions where beginners can get very confused.

Furthermore, tutorials are not always complete, and may leave out important information or basic level skills that beginners may not always know, leading to frustration when trying out the skill for the first time. For instance, cooking tutorials online may have an estimated time for preparation, or may seem quick and easy in a video, but may not show or reflect the cleaning up afterward, or how long it truly takes to prepare ingredients.

Lessons in real-life also hold a certain amount of risk in the credentials of a trainer and their skill or completeness in teaching, but people are less likely to sign up and pay for classes where they are unsure of the teacher’s credentials and are more likely to look for established centres and trainers. The source of knowledge is viewed as more important and not as easily ignored as compared to watching a video online or browsing through your feed.

Con: Things that should NOT be learned online.

As has been stressed throughout this article, there is a lot of information on social media. There is also information for skills which should not be learned on your own, often for good reason. For instance, self-diagnosis and prescription for illnesses or injuries from online information on illnesses is highly discouraged. So is dentistry. These professions often need a high level of training and knowledge for a practitioner’s skill to be safe, and are best left to the professionals.

Perhaps a rule of thumb would be if you are legally required to have a practitioner’s license to exercise a certain skill, it would be best to get your training from a proper school rather than the internet.

Social media has great potential in being a learning platform, and can be very advantageous when used in the right way. Proper research and analysis into the teaching sources you refer to and consideration of your commitment to learning the skill will also help to make your learning process smoother. All the best!

Emily Tan

The article originally appeared in The Blue and Gold SMU magazine. Read the original article here.