Social Networks and Performance in Distributed Learning Communities

By Cadima, Rita; Ojeda, Jordi et al. | Educational Technology & Society, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Social Networks and Performance in Distributed Learning Communities


Cadima, Rita, Ojeda, Jordi, Monguet, Josep M., Educational Technology & Society


Introduction

Social capital refers to the stock of social trust, norms and networks that people can draw upon to solve common problems; it implies connections among individuals as well as the value accrued from these connections (Daniel et al., 2002). Usually when we think of what people use when seeking information about a particular subject, we think of databases, the Web, portals, intranets or more traditional sources such as books, encyclopedias, manuals or records. However, a significant component of information used by each person comes from his or her network of interpersonal relationships (Cross et al., 2001). Processes of production and use of knowledge are significantly influenced by the way knowledge is shared and disseminated through social networks. These sets of interpersonal relationships characterize the way a community or a working group develops its own activity. Social Network Analysis (SNA) techniques provide a rich and systematic means for assessing informal networks by mapping and analysing relationships among people (Cross et al., 2001) and can be a valuable analytical tool for examining complex social processes. Thus, SNA techniques raise the possibility of intervening at critical points within an informal network (Cho et al., 2007). Understanding the structure and dynamics of a community's social network is essential in supporting the implementation of knowledge management strategies. An efficient management is the result of a process that requires understanding which parts have the capacity to create and extract, so that this value can be multiplied by the interaction and cross-fertilization of skills, fostering the flow and exchange of expertise (Edvisson & Malone, 1999). There is abundant cross-sectional evidence of performance correlated with network structure (Burt & Ronchi, 2007). Efforts to strengthen connections or to reinvent organization structure in order to increase the likelihood of strategic success should be based on network information. By revealing organizational trends and identifying the most influential individuals, the network information prevents duplication of efforts and facilitates the distribution of investment among various stakeholders (Clark, 2006; Hoppe & Reinelt, 2009).

Social networks also play an essential role in learning environments as a key channel for knowledge sharing and as a source of social support. Learning activities involving group work and collaboration promote learner-to-learner interactions in order to support the co-construction of knowledge and the sharing of information and resources (Dawson, 2008). Traditional instructional design will continue to be important, but additional emphasis on diverse multifaceted networks needs to be placed to address both the way knowledge exists in networks and the way learning develops and forms (Siemens, 2008). From a social perspective, learning is a social and collective outcome achieved through seamless conversations, shared practices, and networks of social connections (Cho et al., 2007). While learners are doing a learning task or activity, they usually look for some knowledge through their informal networks of colleagues and friends. For most people it is much easier to ask for help from a friend or close colleague than an expert in the area who is totally unknown (Braun et al., 2007). Usually they choose not to go to the channel of the highest quality of information, but rather to go to the channel of the highest accessibility (El-Bishouty et al., 2010). It is therefore expectable that social network structure may explain what makes some individuals or groups more creative and effective in their use of knowledge than others, and hence that social network position and structure are related to students' success and performance.

The aim of this work is to investigate the relations between social networks and students' performance in two distributed learning communities. …

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