Influence of learning design of the formation of online communities of learning

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This paper presents the findings of a study on a fully online Bachelor's level course in Health Sciences at a European University conducted to explore the influence of learning design on the formation and evolution of different types of communities of learning. The impetus for the study came from the well-established effectiveness of community-based learning, a need for understanding learning design and analytics within networked structures and, the lack of theoretical grounding for social network analysis (SNA) in previous literature. Our study uses the Integrated Methodological Framework (IMF) which employs SNA as the key methodology for exploring community-based learning in light of the Communities of Practice (CoP) and Community of Inquiry (CoI) frameworks. The course comprised of three differently designed successive discussion forums spanning three weeks each. Network diagrams and SNA measures clearly showed the impact of the different learning designs on student engagement in the discussion forums. Based on CoP and CoI structural components within the IMF, a comparative analysis of whole-network properties of the three networks indicated the formation of a CoP, initiated and mediated by the tutor in discussion 1, sustained by the students in discussion 2, and disintegrated due to lack of guidance and facilitation in discussion 3. Qualitative analysis on the content of discussion posts revealed the importance of group oriented messages in the formation of the CoP. The paper discusses findings in terms of implications for learning design and analytics in online learning and the role of the tutor in community formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • online learning
  • learning design
  • learning analytics
  • communities of practice
  • community of inquiry
  • social network analysis
  • online facilitation


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