Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Towards a Social Networks Model for Online Learning & Performance

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Towards a Social Networks Model for Online Learning & Performance

Article excerpt


New ways of social interaction, learning and performance (in the form of learning outcomes) have been heavily influenced by the appearance of different Internet technologies and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as Coursera and Khan Academy. These platforms provide stimulating and interactive channels of communication that foster the creation and exchange of user-generated content for learning. Learning is a social process of progressive knowledge acquisition that is shaped by individuals and their interaction with others who can contribute new ideas, opinions and experiences (Rosen, 2010). Thus, social networks within which people interact play an important role in the learning process by expanding the possibilities of learners to reach new sources of information, and by providing (existing and latent) channels for open collaboration among individuals (Haythornthwaite, 2002b; Greenhow, 2011). Despite the attractive advantages presented by scholars about the impact of technology in the learning process, there is still a lack of understanding of the dynamics of social interaction within learning communities. Therefore, the motivating questions that inspire this study are (i) Is there an interplay between social networks, learning and performance? (ii) If so, what is the role of social learning in the inherent relationship between properties of social networks and performance? (iii) How does one quantify and measure learning within a social context? (iv) How does one account for social network properties of structure, relations and position in modelling learning for the purpose of learning analytics?

In this exploratory study, we develop a theoretical model based on social learning and social network theories to understand how knowledge professionals engage in learning and performance, both as individuals and as groups. The study also focuses on how an individual's levels of participation and depth of engagement in the learning process are impacted by social interactions. The following section conducts a review of relevant learning theories and social network theories to arrive at a social networks model for understanding learning and performance. The model is then tested within an e-learning domain in a Group of Eight (Go8) university in Australia. The Go8 (group of Eight) comprises eight leading universities in Australia ( The section on Results discusses the findings of the study, followed by a discussion of these results in light of theory. Implications of the study, limitations and avenue for future research are provided in the conclusion.

Conceptual foundations

There are many different theories describing the general aspects and perspectives of human learning. According to Lave and Wenger (1991), Situated Learning Theory (SLT) supports the notion that learning takes place in social situations where individuals develop skills by interacting with others who can provide them with insights about existing knowledge and previous personal experiences within a "community of practice." They argue that knowledge is acquired in a context that normally involves the practical use of that knowledge, in what we commonly know as "learn by doing." Thus, social interactions play a fundamental role in order to involve learners in a community that has a determined behavior and beliefs. In enabling situated learning, social technologies in particular have great potential and educational value due to their inherent capacity to increase learners' motivation and engagement through participation and knowledge creation (Greenhow, 2011). Due to its notion of community, SLT presents an interesting perspective to analyze learning and performance in that it is closely aligned with the social networks perspective where a social phenomenon such as learning can be understood in terms of the interactions amongst the learners and their mentors.

Towards a model for learning and performance through social networks

Social network analysis (SNA) enables the study of social systems from a structural perspective through the identification of behavioral patterns based on node and tie attributes (Freeman, 2006). …

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