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Article on Social Networking in Self paced Education published


I'm wallowing this morning in the short lived glory of an article published yesterday in the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. My colleagues, Bruno Poellhuber (Univ of Montreal), Ross McKerlich and myself did a survey of students who enrolled in Athabasca in our self paced undergrad program in August 2009. We sent over  3,000 emial invitations and got survey response from over 950 - Not a great return, but not bad either for an online survey- with a draw for two iphones. The study was mant to measure the skills and interest of our students in a variety of social networking and to determine their interest in collaborative work in these individual learning designed programs. Here is the article abstract:

Social networking and communications tools have become widely used in entertainment and social applications and there is growing interest in their use in formal education applications. Distance education and especially those types that are based on self-paced programming models may be the biggest beneficiaries of the use of these new tools to provide previously unavailable capacity for student-student and student-teacher interaction. However, little is known about students’ interest, expectation and expertise using these tools. In this study the results of an online questionnaire (n=967) completed by undergraduate students enrolled in self-paced distance education programming are presented. The paper concludes that these students have very diverse views and experiences - however a majority are interested in using these tools to enhance their learning experiences. We also describe the relationship between expertise and expectation - the greater use and experience of learners, the more they expect and desire to have educational social software used in their formal education programming.

I was surprised at the generally low (but very mixed) self assessment of students in regards to their exposure and competency with various social media tools. As stereotype would predict, the younger males had a higher assessment of their own skills and assessment - but just maybe females assess themselves lower than their actual competencies.

We also noticed a very large split between those interested in collaboration and those who enroll in this type of programming with no expectation or desire to work with others. However the group of social learners is growing- and this even within a self-selected group of students who consciously pick this now rather unique form (continuous enrolment and no group pacing) form of online learning.

This work is part of a larger study aimed at developing real time (web cinferencign) and social networking (using elgg) interventions and assessing their value and adoption in self-paced learning modes of distance education.


  • Congratulations Terry.

    Interesting research. Do you think you would get similar results regarding levels of collaboration at the Master's or Doctoral levels? I am wondering if contributions are linked to confidence in the opinions rather than technology comfort levels.

    Eric von Stackelberg September 18, 2010 - 3:21pm

  • Congratulations Terry! See the glory is lasting at least 10 days!Laughing This is very interesting research and speaks to some of the aspects of my dissertation topic - a Virtual Staffroom to facilitate professional development and collegiality. I suspect that both lack of confidence in expressing opinions and lack of comfort with technology are factors. 

    Veronica, I'm interested in your comments about detailed explicit instructions regarding participation.  I think this is an aspect of learning that needs to be addressed. It is "taught" to varying degrees in basic face-to-face education but not all students "get it" there and not everyone transfers the learning to a different setting.

    Lots of possibility here. Thanks, Terry.

    Mary McNabb September 25, 2010 - 11:00pm

  • The self-selecting group of people who have actively chosen an isolated form of learning makes it very interesting indeed that any students (let alone a large number) would be interested in more interaction and collaboration. It would be interesting to discover whether this is a tendency that increases as more experienced students become exasperated with learning alone, or decreases as they get more used to the process. Any clues?

    Jon Dron October 1, 2010 - 1:48pm

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