Social Networking in E-Learning Courses: Building Sense of Community

While social networking shows great potentials for e-learning in general, little is yet known about how to integrate social networking focusing on building a sense of community, particularly in e-learning courses.  With this in mind, Dr. Harrision Yang and I conducted a case study almost two years ago to design, develop, and integrate social networking into two graduate courses for the purpose of building a sense of community, improving communications and interactions, and promoting student-centered collaboration.

The results of the study were written for a book chapter in our recent book, Collective Intelligence and E-learning 2.0:  Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking, published by IGI Global. Also, the study was presented at the 2009 AECT/SICET International Conference this week in Louisville, Kentucky.  To learn more about this study, please view the presentation shown below.  We welcome your comments and suggestions.

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About Steve Yuen

I am a Professor Emeritus of Instructional Technology and Design at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States.
This entry was posted in E-Learning, Educational Research, Social Networking, Technology Integration, Web 2.0 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Social Networking in E-Learning Courses: Building Sense of Community

  1. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain knowledge, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely helpful for me.

  2. Kemp says:

    I have found the social networking sites in my graduate classes to be invaluable. Particularly appealing to me is that we are able to use free programs, thus excluding the inflexible and one-way commercial learning management systems. I also appreciate being able to learn a bit more about my classmates as people rather than simply someone else taking a class. It is nice to view a colleague’s photography, another’s video, as well as photos of one members grandchildren. I believe that this builds esprit de corps, an essential element in surviving a doctoral program and completing a dissertation.

    Relative to enhanced learning, I do believe that social networks can contribute. There are 20 adults in our class, all with a wide range of interests and experiences, and each sees the world a little differently. I learn a great deal by seeing their work, reading their posts, and exchanging ideas with them. Inevitably someone in the class will phrase something a particular way or introduce a topic I had never before considered. This in and of itself makes social networking worthwhile.

  3. Madelon Gruich says:

    The concept of including social networking in a learning environment entertains a broad range of possibilities. I am interested because so many youth are mesmerized by this technology. Since it is so popular, it makes sense to incorporate the use into classrooms when it benefits learning. Although studies are inconclusive as to the method and purpose of utilization, creative teachers at all educational levels can positively introduce social networking into classroom activities. Several suggested objectives already exist, such as collaboration on group projects both in the traditional and online classes, creation of a warehouse of useful materials and resources, and sharing information when face-to-face meetings are not feasible. The uses are limitless, and creative individuals will find creative ways to include social networking in learning.

    From my personal research, I agree that Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Friendster, and Ning are the most popular networks, and each appeal to a particular group of users. The history of social networks shows just how quickly these technologies were adopted by millions of individuals in a very short amount of time. Facebook, in the last couple of years, has gained first-place status among youth and young adults and continues to grow daily in number of users. I am interested in this field primarily because of my work with community college students and realize firsthand that an emerging technology which stirs such excitement can certainly find a place of purpose in education. Developing a game plan to enrich learning through the use of social networks will take time and collaboration among teachers of all disciplines. Sharing information through blogs such as yours, Dr. Yuen, is extremely beneficial.

  4. jwoodwards says:

    The use of social networking sites (SNS) in conjunction with education is a natural fit. For years, one of the major flaws of course management systems (e.g., Blackboard) has been a lack of social connectivity. This stands in juxtaposition against the move towards connectivism in teaching and learning.

    I have taken several classes with Dr. Yuen that incorporated a social networking site, and each time I have greatly appreciated this element. Simply incorporating dry discussion threads in a boring course shell does not constitute community. Social networks promote a feeling of community in the online classroom; it feels much more like a traditional class. I always get the sense in these classes that students are a group working together towards the goal.

    I actually believe that sites such as could at some point serve as the only platform from which a class runs. The primary deficiency I see with sites such as is a lack of grading. If grades could somehow be connected to assignments within, then a large number of teachers might actually use the SNS as the only means to deliver a class. The next logical step after this would be the ability to export these grades into college student information systems such as BANNER or SOAR.

    Another great advantage of using this approach is that the SNS are usually free. In a time when educational revenues are being sliced, the SNS might be a solution to save a great deal of money in regard to online course management systems.

  5. Jil Wright says:

    I love using social networking in the graduate courses I have taken and believe they are the most natural fit for today’s learners. Obviously, student’s experience with computing in general would be a huge factor in determining whether social networking is the best solution for a course.

    I really dislike Blackboard and other LMS courses because of the isolated feeling when compared to the community feel of social networking sites. I like that I learn more about my peers on a personal level because we can share personal information such as photos and videos. When you are going through a program with the same students in most of the courses, it is really a great way to learn about your peers by viewing their profile page. When courses sizes make social networking something that can be easily managed, I think that a deeper learning occurs because there is a greater feeling of belonging to a community. There are faces to go along with names and it makes discussion easier.

    I have found that I feel more comfortable participating in course forum discussion when I am comfortable with other students. There is less concern that you will be judged negatively when you are comfortable with the instructor and other students.

    The only thing that social networking sites like Ning lack to be the perfect online course tool for small to medium online courses is SCORM integration for the faculty member to keep up with grades. I wish there was a nice middle of the road that would combine all the luxuries of social networking with the back end of a learning management system for instructors.

    I think that educators would really see an improvement in communication in online courses if they could use social networking sites. It really makes the most sense. Most LMS software is very basic, slow, boring, and too “heavy” compared to the ease of social networking and they cost a ton of money, especially compared to something that is free!

    I would not spend money on a LMS for K-12 ever & in higher education I believe its unnecessary except for the SCORM aspect, which could be remedied by an instructor by keeping a well organized spreadsheet of grades for their courses.

  6. Donna Parker says:

    Ready or not social networking is here to stay. Our students today use social networking as part of their daily makeup. Try taking a cell phone away from a young student, and you will see nothing but panic across his or her face. Social networking has created an environment where groups of people are connected. Everyone has the opportunity to belong to a group if they so desire. In some cases a social networking site might be the only place where a student feels comfortable enough to communicate openly with others in the group. As a student of Dr. Yuen’s, I have had the pleasure of seeing how a social networking site can be used as a private course management system. We are already seeing the social networking tools being integrated into such classes as Dr. Yuen’s. I’ll have to admit, logging on daily and seeing everyone’s pictures really gives you the sense that we are a connected group. When I hear my Blackberry alert in the middle of the night, I know someone from class is up late posting an assignment or contributing to a discussion. By the way, I have since learned to turn off alerts at night because so many students are keeping late hours and disturbing my sleep! (ha ha) Seriously, because I see the names and faces of my classmates and am able to communicate through discussion with them, I feel that we are a class that meets regularly face-to-face. I know that in some of my night classes that I teach once a week, I have had a hard time learning students’ names because there was little communication with them from one week to the next. By using social networking tools, I can now make these types of classes feel more connected and part of a class no matter how often we meet.

  7. jennstyron says:

    Hi Dr. Yuen,

    Thank you for sharing this information. I believe that Dr. Yang and yourself provided valuable research in support for the use of social networking in education. This was particularly helpful and provided a great foundation for your study.

    As a student of yours, I have truly enjoyed the courses in which you have integrated social networking via Ning into the course curriculum. Personally, I believe that the use of the social network has provided me a greater sense of belonging in the course, more collaboration between myself and my peers as well as a safe place for us to discuss current issues in technology. In addition, we are able to share resources with one another as well as add additional information, interests, etc. about ourselves which provides us an opportunity to learn more about one another.

    As Dr. Yang and you suggested at the end of your study, I would really be interested in the results if the two of you decided to pursue research on cultural differences and how these difference impact the use and integration of Web 2.0 tools. Not only did you find differences between the collaboration and openness of Asian students, but in Chapter 8 of your book, Wikibook Transformations and Disruptions, one of the four groups in Wiki Project 3 also noted that “Asian counterparts are shy of expressing themselves and because of their language barriers, tended to agree with American counterparts” (p.136). I wonder if 1) the use of Web 2.0 tools lends itself to particular cultures more than others and 2) what types of alternative tools/education trainings can be put into place to promote Web 2.0 tools for such cultures?

    Great post!

    Bonk, C. J., Lee, M. M., Kim, N., & Lin, M. G. (2010). Wikibook Transformations and Disruptions: Looking Back Twenty Years to Today. In Yang, H. H., & Yuen, S. C. (Eds.), Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking (pp.127-146). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference.

  8. Jacquelyn Johnston says:

    It is amazing how using a social networking site in my current hybrid graduate class has actually made me feel a part of a learning community. I cannot say enough positive things about it. The social networking site has allowed me to get to know my classmates better. As a result of feeling like I know my classmates, I have felt somewhat more comfortable interacting in what is a new experience for me. The use of a social networking site has allowed me to learn from my classmates. Traditionally, all assignments would be presented only to the teacher. However, using this social networking tool has provided me with an opportunity to learn from my peers. There is an abundance of information provided on the site to assist in completion of assignments and information to react and reflect on. There has never been a question of what project or reading assignment is due or when it is due. Using social networking as a part of our class has been very accommodating for my lifestyle. It allows me to connect to my class anywhere and anytime. Dr. Yuen has been great about communicating with us on the site and reminding us of important due dates and additional information that is beneficial to our learning. Additionally, the social networking site has been fun. I believe that we are going to see more use of social networking sites in education in the future. I would love to take advantage of this technology in my K-12 school setting. I am certain that it would enhance learning for my students in a variety of ways. If possible, I plan on pursing integrating social networking as part of the learning environment that I provide for my students in the near future.

  9. tdedeaux says:

    I have to agree that a social networking site for a class can add an additional level of connection, even in a face to face class.

    This is especially true of a night class in which many of the people live quite a distance away. The opportunities for socializing just before and after class are somewhat minimal, as many of the students are driving long distances just to get there in time, and then turning around and driving long distances to get home. They just don’t have time to come early or stay late to chat.

    I think the Ning site has allowed a little more of our personalities to show through, especially in the threaded discussions. It also makes it a lot easier to share our work with others, letting us see what our classmates have created in their individual assignments, or see what other groups have created in their group assignments.

    It’s a real shame that Ning will no longer be a free site. I hope that we can find some suitable alternatives. I wonder how well Moodle would work.

  10. I, too, agree with many of the previous replies that claim SNSs add to the feelings of “community” in a distance learning situation. From a personal perspective, implementing a SNS such as Ning into a hybrid-format course has immensely helped me stay “in touch” and “contact” with the professor and fellow students in a course. Living a considerable distance away from the university in which I am enrolled, I have found that it is not a common emotion to feel easily “disconnected” or out of touch during the learning experiences that are taking place.

    Social networking sites have a good bit in common with LMSs such as Blackboard or WebCT, but there is still a “cookie cutter” feeling associated with those platforms. Ning, for example, models the same sort of social network that so many of us use on a daily basis (such as Facebook). Users are able to use, update, and edit their own personal profile (similar to Facebook), submit assignments electronically, and chat/collaborate with other users. The use of Ning in our class this semester has definitely helped me to feel part of the learning community of our class. What a positive learning and collaborative experience it has been!

  11. 網路社交顯示一般的電子學習的潛力很大,但是我還不知道如何整合社交網絡,重點建設社群意識,特別是在數位學習課程。

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