Title: How Media Choice Affects Learner Interactions in Distance Learning Classes (2014)

Authors: Brian Thoms & Evren Eryilmaz

Source: Computers & Education

Research Question: Does the type of software used to facilitate learning have an impact on distance education, or online learning? Specifically, does online social networking software lead to greater interaction and higher levels of learning than learning management system (LMS) software?

Study Design: In order to investigate the impact of social versus LMS software, researchers introduced either the customized social network or the university’s LMS as the primary learning environment for existing populations of college students taking a required capstone information systems course. The study used four groups of students in the course: the first two groups were given the university’s LMS platform (Angel v7.4), while groups three and four were given the customized online social network platform (Elgg).

Eleven asynchronous online discussion assignments were given throughout the semester, each of which required students to initiate one discussion thread and respond to three other threads. Researchers measured students’ perceptions of learning, social interaction, and community before and after the interventions; elements were further explored using social network analysis.

Findings: A five point Likert Scale was used to measure software satisfaction, ease of use, and student perceptions of the overall learning environment in relation to learning, interaction, and community. Overall, students participating in the social network experienced higher levels of perceived social interaction, community, and satisfaction, and 84% of social network participants found the platform engaging as compared to 72% of LMS participants.

The social network analysis indicated that the frequency of interactions was higher across users of the online social network, meaning students responded to more of their classmates than those in the LMS environments. The analysis also revealed more unique edges for social network users (253 and 244) than LMS users (175 and 184), indicating that social network users were also contributing more than LMS users. On average, social network users produced 38% more posts than LMS users, and had a higher number of student-to-student interactions.

Interestingly, students also found the social network software to be easier to use (95% versus 84%) even though most students would have used Angel (the LMS) in prior courses and this was the first time using the online social network. This result supports the notion that learning software should more closely resemble the kinds of social software that most students are already using.

Moving Forward: The study measured only the quantity of interactions and perceived levels of learning. As such, students may be more engaged in the process of learning via social network software, but they may or may not experience better learning outcomes than the LMS users. Future research is needed to investigate the overall quality of interactions and to assess actual learning. Still, student satisfaction and engagement are especially important factors for distance learning; further study of the integration of social network software into online courses may greatly facilitate online instruction.

Image: Meredith Powers (© 2014 New Learning Times)