oa South African Journal of Higher Education - Social media and social capital in online learning - research

Volume 33 Number 3
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



Online learning inherently affords collaborative learning opportunities for participating students. Open distance learning (ODL) institutions typically accommodate students from diverse educational backgrounds with disparate levels of access to technological resources. The mere existence of an online learning platform does not necessarily equate to student access to collaborative learning opportunities. A qualitative study investigated how diverse students in an online learning module collaborated with peers in furthering their learning project at a large ODL university. It emerges that students engage in various formal and informal collaborative learning activities which constitute the creation of personal learning environments (PLEs). PLEs demonstrate the role of student agency as students coordinate their options. Social capital theory shows how different types of social ties in PLEs provide for bonding and bridging social capital; the combination of which serves the learning project by providing for both strong ties in supportive relationships between students and weak ties with knowledge generation capabilities between previously unacquainted students. The results can assist online learning practitioners who wish to promote beneficial collaborative learning opportunities among their students.

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