The Role of Social Media in Developing Online Learning Communities
Date: 4 November 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in Education
The purpose of this study was to examine the role of social media in develop-ing learning communities in both formal and informal learning contexts. The study was based on a theoretical framework to examine online learning communities from three levels: individual, interactional and group. This study selected two cases: the first case ...
The purpose of this study was to examine the role of social media in develop-ing learning communities in both formal and informal learning contexts. The study was based on a theoretical framework to examine online learning communities from three levels: individual, interactional and group. This study selected two cases: the first case was a formal learning group that used networked learning via Twitter and WhatsApp within a blended learning environment in an academic module; this for-mal learning group was controlled by the teacher of the module. The second case was an informal learning group that used Twitter and WhatsApp to learn and prac-tise English as a second language; this group was created and informally organised by an active member on Twitter who was interested in teaching and practising Eng-lish. Semi-structured interviews, focus groups and WhatsApp discussion samples were the three main data collection methods of this study. The data were analysed using three procedures. Firstly, a thematic analysis of the interviews was conducted to generate a thematic research map and create a coding scheme for analysing the content of the WhatsApp discussions. Secondly, a social network analysis (SNA) was applied to the WhatsApp group discussions to map out the interactions among group members and select the sample of WhatsApp discussion for the third data analysis procedure. The third procedure was content analysis (CA), which was ap-plied to the WhatsApp conversations that occurred during the selected sample (the three most active and connected weeks). Findings from the SNA and CA were used to triangulate the results of the thematic analysis. The findings revealed that the ex-istence of similar learning needs, interactive communication among members and using appropriate communication tools are the main factors that develop online learning communities on social media. Also, it showed that the main function of us-ing Twitter for learning purposes was to develop the academic and social presence of the students/learners, while the main learning function of using WhatsApp was to provide an instant and open communication environment for online learning com-munity members. However, there were different uses of these applications in formal and informal learning contexts, which were described in the study.
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