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Bridging existing teen engagement in social media with academic will

David G. Grant

Teens are engaged. The challenge educators face is influencing, not controlling, the direction of teen engagement. One way for educators to tackle this challenge is to understand the existing motives and abilities of teens, together with their current access to technology. Educators can strategically influence access to tools, development of skills, and cultivation of academic will to learn.

Social media has gained attention both as a means of improving learning as well as a source of negative impact. On the one hand, Facebook has been studied as a mechanism for student collaboration and engaged learning (Junco, 2012; Kio, 2016). On the other hand, if academic purpose is not the focus, the effects might be negative. A meta-analysis of Facebook use by university and secondary students counsels cautious optimism (Marker, Gnambs, & Appel, 2018). Evidence from this study supports the claim that Facebook use for academic purposes can improve learning outcomes; however, general Facebook use resulted in reduced learning.

The ‘will, skill, tool’ model was developed to predict technology use by teachers in K-12 educational contexts and tested in the US, Mexico and Switzerland. Theoretically, influence of teacher will, skill, and tool access predicts actual use and, as a result, increased learning. Knezek and Christensen (2016) note that the model predicted between 60 and 90 per cent of variation in use, and extend the model by adding teacher pedagogy. However, the model has not been tested with students who also make decisions to use or avoid technology.

Therefore, I extended the skill, will, tool model to a nationally representative sample of US teens focussed on social media (Grant, 2019). A secondary data analysis of Pew Research Center’s social media survey of 1,060 US teens identified common social media skills (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter) and tools (internet access, smartphone access and tablet access). Principal component analysis identified six latent variables reflecting teen will (attitude toward use of technology) of which two were significant predictors (peer pressure and seeking romance). Path analysis was conducted for the conceptual framework including demographic factors, tool factors, will factors and social media skill factors. Multiple linear path analysis was conducted. Results confirmed the utility of the skill, will, and tool model. Peer pressure and seeking romance were the strongest will factors. The smartphone was the most important tool and social media skills with Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram were significant predictors. The model appears moderately effective in predicting technology use on a national scale, albeit with naturally occurring will factors and widely available tools and skills. Further qualitative research may explore the ways in which teachers bridge existing will factors of teens with academic purpose.

‘The skill, will, tool model demonstrates an interplay of factors that can assist educational leaders and policymakers in shaping conditions that improve learning.’

The skill, will, tool model demonstrates an interplay of factors that can assist educational leaders and policymakers in shaping conditions that improve learning. By aligning factors predicting technology use and acting on this knowledge to guide pedagogical and curriculum decision-making, greater effects can be realised. Furthermore, policymakers may improve the impact of resource allocation by considering the educator and learner skills required, and will factors necessary, for the successful implementation of technology tools with teens.

Information and communication technology grow even as this blog makes its way to you. However, technology per se is no more valuable to learning than a car or water fountain. Separated from purpose, technology can absorb time and money, fragment our attention, and distract students from authentic learning. The opportunity we share is to co-create with teens academic will, and to align technology tools with the requisite skills that unlock student potential.

This blog post is based on the article ‘Predicting Web 2.0 use among US teens—Expanding the power of the skill, will and tool model’ by David G. Grant, which is published in the British Journal of Educational Technology and is free-to-view for a time-limited period, courtesy of the journal’s publisher, Wiley.


Grant, D. (2019, in press). Predicting Web 2.0 use among US teens: Expanding the power of the skill, will, and tool model. British Journal of Educational Technology.

Junco, R. (2012). The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities, and student engagement. Computers & Education, 58(1), 162–171.

Kio, S. I. (2016). Extending social networking into the secondary education sector. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(4), 721–733.

Knezek, G., & Christensen, R. (2016). Extending the will, skill, tool model of technology integration: Adding pedagogy as a new model construct. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 28(3), 307–325.

Marker, C., Gnambs, T., & Appel, M. (2018). Active on Facebook and failing at school? Meta-analytic findings on the relationship between online social networking activities and academic achievement. Educational Psychology Review, 30(3), 651–677.