Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Examining the Factors Influencing Participants' Knowledge Sharing Behavior in Virtual Learning Communities

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Examining the Factors Influencing Participants' Knowledge Sharing Behavior in Virtual Learning Communities

Article excerpt

Introduction

The explosion in Web based technology has led to increasing volume and complexity of knowledge, which stimulates the proliferation of virtual learning communities (VLCs). They are information technology based cyberspaces in which individuals and groups of geographically dispersed learners accomplish their e-learning goals (Yang et al., 2007). Such kind of communities has become growing initiatives during the past years in business organizations, educational institutions, and governments to pursue and mobilize knowledge via the Internet.

Despite the proliferation of virtual learning communities in modern life, very little is known about factors leading to their success or failure. The objective of VLCs is to enhance learning performance by encouraging participants to exploit or explore knowledge. Therefore, whether learners can share knowledge by raising good questions, recommending good articles, providing ideas and helping others resolve problems over Internet become critical in enhancing their learning performance. As Leonard (1995) indicated, valuable knowledge collects in individuals' head and is embodied in machines, software, and routine processes. The participants of learning activities in VLCs need to understand precisely what knowledge will fulfill their needs, and to keep this knowledge on the cutting edge, deploy it, leverage it in performing their tasks, and spread it across the community.

While knowledge sharing has been found to be a motivation for using emergent virtual communities (VC) (Wasko & Faraj, 2000), a range of barriers has been found impeding online knowledge sharing. The barriers having been discussed in VC literature include poor quality of community websites, members' lack of social relationship ties in the social network, their lack of capabilities in using community websites and involving in knowledge sharing, and the cognitive process such as negative attitude toward sharing knowledge online (Chen, 2007; Malhotra & Galletta, 2004; Sangwan, 2005). These barriers, however, have received little attention in VLC literature. Although some recent VLC studies have explored the importance of individuals' attitude or self-efficacy in performing online knowledge sharing, their results only demonstrated the roles of an individual's belief and capabilities in performing such behavior, without considering the effects of an individual's centrality in a social network and the opinions provided by others in such network (subjective norm). Wasko and Faraj (2005) pointed out that an individual's structural position in an electronic network of practice will influence his or her willingness to contribute knowledge to others. Given the social characteristic of virtual learning communities, this study suggests that attitude, self-efficacy, social network ties and subjective norm will collectively shape knowledge sharing behavior. The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) is used as the underlying framework for developing the research model.

TPB has been one of the most influential theories in explaining and predicting behavior, and it has been shown to predict a wide range of behaviors (Sheppard et al., 1988). TPB posits that individuals' behavior is determined by behavioral intention and perceived behavioral control. Behavioral intention is determined by attitude toward behavior (ATT), subjective norm (SN), and perceived behavioral control (PBC) (Ajzen, 1985). Attitude toward behavior reflects one's favorable/unfavorable feelings of performing a behavior. Subjective norm reflects one's perception of relevant others' opinions on whether or not he or she should perform a particular behavior. Perceived behavioral control reflects one's perceptions of the availability of resources or opportunities necessary for performing a behavior (Ajzen & Madden, 1986). Recently, some academicians found that TPB can be used as a theoretical guidance for explaining knowledge sharing intention (e. …

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