Social network analysis: a framework for identifying communities in higher education online learning

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This paper presents the Integrated Methodological Framework (IMF) which uses social network analysis (SNA) to structurally identify communities in higher education online learning (HEOL). Decades of research speaks for the value of community-based learning albeit in traditional, blended, or online environments. The communities of practice (CoP) and community of inquiry (CoI) are well-established, empirically tested frameworks that have been effectively used for exploration of community-based learning in professional and educational contexts. Typically, research using these frameworks has required extensive qualitative analysis making it tedious and time-consuming. Pivoting on structural similarities between networks and communities, the IMF embeds SNA constructs in structural components of the CoP and CoI frameworks. By structurally identifying a CoP and CoI, the IMF allows targeted, selective qualitative analysis thus reducing the extent of qualitative analysis required previously in research using the CoP and CoI frameworks. Application of the IMF is demonstrated in a case study on an online blogging network. The study substantiates the IMF as an effective framework for structural identification of a CoP and CoI. The validity and robustness of the IMF is being further tested in ongoing research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621–639
Number of pages19
JournalTechnology, Knowledge and Learning
Issue number4
Early online date16 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • social network analysis
  • learning analytics
  • online learning
  • communities of practice
  • community of inquiry
  • methodological framework


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