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Knowledge and use of academic social networking tools among Nigerian physiotherapy educators


Background and aim

The advent of academic social networking tools (ASNTs) has brought a paradigm shift to academic culture and practice dynamics; however, there is an apparent dearth of information on its adoption among health professions academics in developing countries. This study aimed to assess knowledge, use, and perceptions of ASNTs among physiotherapy educators in Nigeria.


This cross-sectional study involved 20 consented physiotherapy educators from five universities in South-west Nigeria offering physiotherapy degrees. A self-administered questionnaire with adequate face and content validity was employed to assess knowledge, perception, barriers, and use of ASNTs. Descriptive statistics of frequency and percentages were applied.


A majority of the respondents had knowledge and utilized ASNTs such as Research Gate (80%), Google Scholar (80%), Google Plus (70%), LinkedIn (50%), and (50%). Mynetresearch (5%) and Lameresearch (5%) were not popular, while, Quarzy, and were not known. ASNTs were used to raise personal profiles in the research community (100%), publicize research (95%), share authorized content (85%), attract funds (65%), attract future employers (65%), and actively discuss research and discover job opportunities (45%). Electricity failure (70%), lack of infrastructural facilities (70%), unavailability of internet facilities (60%), lack of technical knowhow (45%), time constraints (45%), and personal factors (45%) were the significant barriers in utilizing ASNTs.


Nigerian physiotherapy educators were knowledgeable and adopted most ASNTs. Power failure, lack of technical know-how, infrastructural and internet facilities, and personal factors limit the utilization of ASNTs among Nigerian physiotherapy educators.


Social networking is the practice of using dedicated websites and electronic applications to interact with other users or to locate people of like interests with a view of making and sharing information, ideas, as well as other forms of expression via virtual connections [1]. On the other hand, social network comprises a set of individuals who are interconnected through certain relationships such as friendship, co-working, or information exchange [2]. In its traditional form, members of a social network communicate through face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, and letters. However, with advancing technology, came the evolution and proliferation of social network sites which is an online community where people interact with one another through graphic presentations, virtual experiences, and simulations [3]. The social network sites are networked communication avenues where user-provided content such as individual profiles, ideas, interests, and other information can be publicly viewed by others, who in turn create connections with contents produced by the user on the site [4]. In sum, an electronically connected social network aims to facilitate creating a personal profile, link or connect a user with others, supervise the activities of all users appearing in the list, as well as create new links [5, 6]. The social networking tools that are designed for the academic community are called academic social networking tools (ASNTs).

Currently, ASNTs are revolutionizing how teaching, research, services, and administration are conducted [7, 8]. Thus, resulting in a paradigm shift from the traditional methods of consulting textbooks and libraries to internet-based learning tools and environments [8, 9]. Accordingly, Maney posits that higher education has been changed by the internet revolution, and the current century is no more “university model” dominated [10].

At present, ASNTs have global coverage but varying degrees of adoption among academics and students [11] for purposes not limited to discovering researchers/experts and relevant documents, improving one’s profile/visibility and followership, disseminating research outputs/publications, creating network/collaborations, discussing/disseminating research findings, finding a job/consultation, and sharing information/metrics [12]. Also, the advent of ASNTs has birthed the idea of “social scholarship” where, among other things, social scholars write articles and disseminate research outcomes and outputs on blogs, restricted Wikis, and social bookmarking sites, which invite comments as a means of “soft peer review” [13].

Every ASNT is peculiar, with varying potentials. For instance, ResearchGate supports scholars’ various activities [14] and connects users to non-academic social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn [15, 16]. ResearchGate requires all users to register valid emails showing affiliations with academic institutions, and it provides metrics on publication downloads and citation counts, as well as opportunities for participation in discussion, question and answer, and job-searching services [16]. Similarly, Mendeley is designed to suit the activities of students, researchers, lecturers, educators, and librarians by facilitating the uploading of the document library, importing and exporting citations to other similar tools (i.e., EndNote and Zotero) [17], aiding online followership, updating knowledge, initiating collaboration and disseminating publications [18].

The increasing popularity of ASNTs invites the need for empirical investigations into its adoption, facilitators, and barriers among scholars [19]. Availability or easy access to ASNTs has been singled out as a significant factor related to the adoption of ASNTs [20]. However, this finding may not be easily extrapolated to sub-Saharan Africa where lack or limited access and weak research infrastructure are still pervasive [21, 22]. While studies have shown different patterns of ASNTs adoption in other developed climes [23, 24], however, there is an apparent dearth of information on its adoption among health professions academics in developing countries. To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore the use of ASNTs among physiotherapy educators/academics. Understanding the pattern of ASNTs usage among Nigerian physiotherapy educators may give insight into the undercurrents of its adoption, barriers, and facilitators. Thus, this study aimed to explore the knowledge and use of ASNTs among physiotherapy educators in Nigeria.


Twenty consenting physiotherapy educators from all five universities offering physiotherapy courses in South-west Nigeria participated in this cross-sectional study. The universities were Bowen University Iwo, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, and University of Medical Sciences, Ondo respectively. Respondents were drawn from a list of all lecturers gleaned from the websites of the different institutions (N = 35). Based on the sample size calculator (, set at a margin error of 5% and confidence interval of 95%, a required sample size of 33 was obtained. The study’s survey was mailed to all the 35 physiotherapy educators identified; however, only 20 (14 male and 6 female) respondents returned the survey, thus yielding a response rate of 60.6%. A response rate of at least 44.1% is considered to provide a robust representativeness of an online survey and therefore acceptable [25].

A four-section self-administered questionnaire was used to assess knowledge, perception, barriers, and use of ASNTs. The questionnaire was modified from previous studies [26,27,28]. The socio-demographic information section (A) was adapted to be relevant to the study’s context. Also, in Section B of the questionnaire, an expanded list of ASNTs, and items that sought information on opinions, use, and obstacles to the use of ASNTs were gleaned from these previous studies [26,27,28]. The questionnaire was tested for its face and content validity among experts (two physiotherapy educators who were not part of the main study and library staff) (Additional file 1). Ethical approval for this study was obtained from the Health Research and Ethics Committee of the Institute of Public Health Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria (HREC No: IPHOAU/12/1172). A full disclosure of the purpose of the study was provided. All respondents gave informed consent to participate in the study, and the questionnaires were administered thereafter. Descriptive statistics of numbers and percentages were used to summarize the data. Data analyses were carried out using SPSS 16.0 version software (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).


The majority (70%) of the respondents were 40 years and older, predominantly (80%) Christians and of the Yoruba tribe (70%). Eighty-five percent of these respondents had a PhD (Table 1). Most of the respondents had knowledge of and utilized Research Gate (80%), Google Scholar (80%), Google Plus (70%), LinkedIn (50%), and (50%). Mynetresearch (5%) and Lameresearch (5%) were not popular, while, Quarzy, and were not known (Table 2) (Fig. 1).

Table 1 Socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents
Table 2 State of familiarity and source of familiarity with academic social networking tools among physiotherapy educators
Fig. 1
figure 1

State of familiarity with the use of academic social networking tools

ASNTs were mostly used to raise personal profiles in the research community (100%), publicize research (95%), share authorized content (85%), attract funds (65%), and attract future employers (65%) (Table 3). The respondents found ASNTs useful in discovering peers in their field of research (95%), discovering recommended research papers (90%), sharing links to authored content (85%), commenting on research related to their field (85%), contacting peers in their field of research (85%), following other discussions on research related issues (75%), posting content related to their work (70%), and maintaining a profile in case someone wishes to contact them about their research (60%) (Table 4). However, only 45% of the respondents actively discuss their research and discover job opportunities using ASNTs. The obstacles to the use of ASNTs were majorly electricity failure (70%) lack of infrastructural facilities (70%) and unavailability of internet facilities (60%). Other factors include lack of technical know-how (45%), time constraints (45%) and personal factors (45%) (Table 5).

Table 3 Purpose of use of academic social networking tools among physiotherapy educators
Table 4 Perceptions of physiotherapy educators about the usage of academic social networking tools
Table 5 Perceived obstacles to using an academic social networking tool


This study aimed to assess knowledge, use, and perceptions of ASNTs among physiotherapy educators in Nigeria. The physiotherapy educators in this study were in the 40 years and older category. This age group is tagged Gen Xers (40–55 years old as of 2020) [29]. The respondents’ age was within the age range of adopters of the Internet and technology [30, 31]. Though, not as avid internet users as the millennials [31], the Gen Xers represent a transitionary age group between young and old adulthood (41–56 years old) [32], and about three-fourths or more of this age group (comparable with the millennials) utilize social networking sites [31]. Thus, being in this age category may account for the awareness of ASNTs among most of the respondents. From the result of this study, most Nigerian physiotherapy educators had knowledge of ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and Similarly, some earlier studies reported that ResearchGate, Google Scholar, and were the most well-known and used ASNTs in various academic institutions worldwide [23, 33,34,35]. It is possible that the popularity of these ASNTs in this study context is because of the bandwagon snob/effect. The bandwagon effect which is a psychological phenomenon phenomenon individuals to do something principally because others are doing it, has been associated with the utilization of social networking tools. Fu et al. [36] found that bandwagon effect drives internet users to participate in social network sites in ways conforming with real-world group proximity rather than making random or amorphous choices. Easily, the internet provides a platform for the bandwagon effect of ASNT adoption to fester. This is in tandem with the reports by Sheikh [37] that the majority of academics became familiar with ASNTs through the Internet. It is also plausible that the ASNTs commonly adopted in this study were based on the apparent value of the sites for academics. For example, most of the ASNTs that were utilized by academics in this study may have offered themselves as professionals, as well as accommodated usual social network fundamentals. Some of the ASNTs have academic-related features such as uploading research abstracts and articles, providing publication links and alerts; tracking demands, requests, and inquiries on published articles, and opportunity to engage in professional interaction. In addition, these ASNTs have some bit of core social network sites that may have attracted academics to utilize them. However, Nigerian physiotherapy educators did not know Scholarstica,, Cite U like, and Frontieras ASNTs.

Furthermore, the findings of this study corroborate the submission that drives to raise the personal profile, get noticed by colleagues, and promote professional content are the motive for use of ASNTs by academics [38]. In contrast to this submission, Dermentzi et al. [39] posit that self-promotion is not the main motive for using social networking tools/sites by academics. Nigerian physiotherapy educators found ASNTs helpful in discovering peers in their field of research, discovering recommended research papers, sharing links to authored content, commenting on studies related to their field, contacting peers in their field of research, and as well as following other discussions on research-related issues. They also found ASNTs helpful in posting content related to their works, maintaining a profile in case someone wishes to contact them about their research discussing their research, and discovering job opportunities. These findings resonate with a previous report indicating that ASNTs are relevant in building professional profiles, sharing academic publications and journals, and communicating questions with peers [40]. Other studies also affirm that ASNTs are relevant in intra/inter-institutional relationships and collaboration on academic projects [41]. It should be stated, however, that more than half of the physiotherapy educators sampled in this study did not actively discuss their research findings and discover job opportunities using ASNTs. This may be related to a lack of or inadequate knowledge of ASNTs’ usefulness, especially concerning the promotion of research interests and professional profiles. Specifically, 65% of these academics reported a lack of knowledge on the use of ASNTs in promoting research findings. In comparison, 65% and 20% reported that ASNTs are not at all helpful and not very helpful in fostering professional profiles. Thus, concerted efforts in education are still needed for Nigerian physiotherapy educators on the purpose of ASNTs.

Nigerian physiotherapy educators have a favorable view of ASNTs. While most academics would not be confident in the professional use of ASNTs, the majority of the academic physiotherapists in this study professionally made use of ASNTs in posting content related to their works, actively using it in discussing research with peers, following other discussions on research-related issues, and using it to track metrics about interests in their work. In line with the foregoing, Sheikh affirms that the purpose of ASNTs among academics is entirely different from entertainment as they specifically target scholars [37]. Similarly, Nández and Borrego observed that ASNTs are important in disseminating research results as well as following other researchers’ activities [42]. As earlier stated, Nigerian physiotherapy educators utilized ASNTs, despite having potential confidence issues in relation to privacy and confidentiality. The continuous use of ASNTs by these academics despite this misgiving may have resulted from robust data protection management offered by these ASNTs.

The most common barriers to using ASNTs by Nigerian physiotherapy educators include erratic power supply, lack of infrastructural facilities, and unavailability of internet facilities. These challenges have been reported as pervading in the study context [43], where particularly, the dearth of infrastructure due to poor/inadequate funding continues to plague educational development in Nigeria. In addition, Ohajianya et al. acknowledged that erratic power supply is the bane of growth in the country [44]. Therefore, pragmatic interventions to overcome these barriers may improve the uptake of ASNTs as a veritable platform to enhance academic and research activities among Nigerian physiotherapy educators. Some of these interventions may include training about the usefulness of ASNTs in academia, provision of dedicated electricity supply to the universities, appropriate funding of academic infrastructures, and provision of internet services in the academic area.

A potential limitation of this study is that the respondents were drawn from Southwestern Nigeria. Physiotherapy educators outside the study settings can have diverse education, exposure, confidence, and experience of ASNTs, and therefore present with a varying ASNTs adoption pattern. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that Southwest Nigeria’s metropolitan nature made it an attractive region for people from different parts of the country to live and work. Thus, the physiotherapy educators in this study were somewhat heterogeneous and may probably not be unrepresentative of their colleagues elsewhere. Another limitation of this study is its descriptive nature and small sample size of respondents in the younger age ranges. While this is the first study in physiotherapy to assess ASNT adoption patterns among physiotherapy educators, there is a need for future studies that will look into these shortcomings.


Nigerian physiotherapy educators were knowledgeable and adopted most ASNTs. Power failure, lack of technical know-how, infrastructural and internet facilities, and personal factors limit the utilization of ASNTs among Nigerian physiotherapy educators. The provision of training and infrastructural facilities that will promote digital adoption in learning, teaching, and research among Nigerian physiotherapy educators is proposed.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/ or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Mbada, C., David, O.O., Adeniyi, A. et al. Knowledge and use of academic social networking tools among Nigerian physiotherapy educators. Bull Fac Phys Ther 28, 50 (2023).

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