Using Academic Social Networks to Enhance the Student Experience in Online Education

Tiffani Bateman


Online universities utilize academic social networks to build connections among students, faculty, and alumni through affinity groups. This study explored how students interact in academic social networks, who they collaborate with, why they use academic social networks, and how this influences their educational experience. This qualitative, interpretive, phenomenological study explored the lived experiences of six online higher education students reporting active participation in an academic social network. Three core themes emerged from data analysis: (a) acceptance and belonging; (b) self-validation; and (c) drawing from multiple perspectives describing how academic social networking communities are formed, why students are using them, and what this means to online higher education. The essence of academic social networking as it relates to self-actualization is discussed, with insights for educational leaders regarding the use of academic social networking and affinity groups in online higher education.


Online Learning

Full Text:



Ardichvili, A. (2008). Learning and knowledge sharing in virtual communities of practice: Motivators, barriers, and enablers. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(4), 541-554. https://doi:10.1177/1523422308319536

Akyol, Z. & Garrison, D. R. (2008). The development of a community of inquiry over time in an online course: Understanding the progression and integration of social, cognitive and teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12, 3-4.

Ali, A., & Kohun, F. (2007). Dealing with social isolation to minimize doctoral attrition – a four stage framework. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 2, 33-29. 033Ali13.pdf

Annand, D. (2011). Social presence within the community of inquiry framework. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(5), 40-56.

Altbach, P. G., Berdahl, R. O., Gumport, P. J. (2005). American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political, and economic challenges (2nd ed.). John Hopkins University Press.

Arbaugh, J. B., Cleveland-Innes, M., Diaz, S., Garrison, D. R., Ice, P., & Richardson, J. (2008). Developing a community of inquiry instrument: Testing a measure of the community of inquiry framework using a multi-institutional sample. Internet and Higher Education, 11, 133−136.

Arnold, N., & Paulus, T. (2010). Using a social networking site for experiential learning: Appropriating, lurking, modeling and community building. Internet and Higher Education, 13(4), 188-196.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Worth.

Banks, J., Au, K., Ball, A., Bell, P., Gordon, E., Gutierrez, K., Heath, S., et al. (2007). Learning in and out of school in diverse environments (Consensus Report). Learning in Informal and Formal Environment (LIFE) Center.

Bahk, C., Sheil, A., Rohm, C., & Lin, F. (2010). Digital media dependency, relational orientation and social networking among college students. (English). Communications of the IIMA, 10(3), 69-78.

Boyle, F., Kwon, J., Ross, C., & Simpson, O. (2010). Student–student mentoring for retention and engagement in distance education. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 25(2), 115-130.

Boyd, D. (2011, January 15). The economist debate on social networking [Web log post].

College Board and Art & Science Group (2009). Social Networking Sites. Student Poll, (7)2,

Coroama, L. (2011). Reconsidering the relation between the formal and informal learning of the English language in the higher education system. Euromentor, 2(4), 85-91.

Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 (2011). Educational Networking [Weblog post].

Dennen, V. P. (2008). Looking for evidence of learning: assessment and analysis methods for online discourse. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(2), 205-219.

Durak, H. Y. (2020). Cyberloafing in learning environments where online social networking sites are used as learning tools: Antecedents and consequences. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 58(3), 539–569.

Edelmann, N. (2013). Reviewing the definitions of “lurkers” and some implications for online research. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 16(9), 645-649.

EDUCAUSE: Center for Applied Research (2010). The ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology. Educause.

Eodice, M. & Gaffin, D. (2008). Let’s face Facebook. The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 17(6), 1-4.

Foster, M. K., Francescucci, A., & West, B. C. (2010). Why users participate in online social networks. International Journal of E-Business Management, 4(1), 3-19.

Fisher, M. & Baird, D. E. (2005). Online learning design that fosters student support, self-regulation, and retention. Campus-Wide Information Systems, (22)2, Emerald Group Publishing.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1–2), 5–9. higher-education/

Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Fung, T. S. (2010). Exploring casual relationships between teaching, cognitive and social presence: Student perceptions of community of inquiry framework. Internet and Higher Education, 13, 31-36.

Gerow, J. E., Galluch, P. S., & Thatcher, J. B. (2010). To slack or not to slack: Internet

usage in the classroom. Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application,

(3), 5–24.

Glezou, K., Grigoriadou, M., & Samarakou, M. (2010). Educational online social networking in Greece: A case study of a Greek educational online social network. The International Journal of Learning, 17(3), 399-420.

Greenhow, C., Robelia, B., & Hughes, J. E. (2009). Learning, teaching, and scholarship in a digital age. Educational Researcher, 38(246-258).

Guest G., Bunce A., Johnson L. (2006). How many interviews are enough? an experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods. (18) pp. 59–82.

Heaney, A., & Fisher, R. (2011). Supporting conditionally admitted students: A case study of assessing persistence in a learning community. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 11(1), 62-78.

Heo, G. & Lee, R. (2013). Blogs and social network sites as activity systems: Exploring adult informal learning process through activity theory framework. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 16(4), 133-145.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Chernobilsky, E., & Jordan, R. (2008). Understanding collaborative learning processes in new learning environments. Instructional Science, 36(5-6),

Hodkinson, P. (2005). Learning as cultural and relational: moving past some troubling dualisms. Cambridge Journal of Education, 35(1), 107-119.

Holland, A. A. (2019). Effective principles of informal online learning design: A theory-building metasynthesis of qualitative research. Computers & Education, 128, 214–226.

Hofstetter, R., & Schneuwly, B. (2009). Knowledge for teaching and knowledge to teach: two contrasting figures of new education: Claparede and Vygotsky. Paedagogica Historica, 45, 605-629.

Hoskins, B. (2011). Demand, growth, and evolution. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 59(1), 57-60.

Ilkyu, H., & Chonggun, K. (2014). Understanding user behaviors in social networking service for mobile learning: A case study with twitter. Malaysian Journal of Computer Science, 27(2), 112-123.

Ivankova, N. V., & Stick, S. L. (2007). Students’ persistence in a distributed doctoral program in educational leadership in higher education: A mixed methods study. Research in Higher Education, 48(1), 93-135. 9025-4

Jones, S. (2002). The internet goes to college. Pew Internet & American Life. USDLA Journal, 16(10).

Jung, Y. (2011). Education as a ubiquitous learning web, immersed in living. Journal of Unschooling & Alternative Learning, 5(9), 38-56.

Kabilan, M. K., Ahamad, N., & Abidin, M. J. (2010). Facebook: An online environment for learning of English in institutions of higher education? Internet and Higher Education, 13, 179-187.

Kaya, T. (2010). New College Social Networks, Unlike Facebook, Foster Academic Interaction. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ke, F. (2010). Examining online teaching, cognitive, and social presence for adult students. Computers & Education. 55(4), 808-820.

Livingstone, D. W. (2001). Adults’ informal learning: Definition, findings, gaps and future research. Canada: Human Resources Development. Center for the Study of Education and Work.

Liu, M., Kalk, D., Kinney, L., & Orr, G. (2010, October). How Web 2.0 technologies are used in higher education: An updated review of literature. In E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (pp. 2604-2615). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Lowenthal, P. R. (in press). Social presence. In P. Rogers, G. Berg, J. Boettcher, C. Howard, L. Justice, & K. Schenk (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distance and online learning (2nd ed.). Information Science Reference.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2006). Designing qualitative research (4th ed.) Sage Publications.

Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd. ed.). Harper Collins Publishers.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. Revised and expanded from qualitative research and case study applications in education. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Morrison, M., & McMillan, S. (2010). Oh, user, who art thou: An examination of behaviors and characteristics of consumers in the context of user generated content. American Academy of Advertising Conference Proceedings, 77.

Morrison, M., Hyuk Jun, C., & McMillan, S. J. (2011). Shading in the gray: Profiling media use patterns of posters, lurkers, and networkers. American Academy of Advertising Conference Proceedings, 56-58.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Muller, M. J., Freyne, J., Dugan, C., Millen, D. R., & Thom-Santelli, J. (2009). Return On Contribution (ROC): A metric for enterprise social software. In ECSCW 2009 (pp. 143-150). Springer.

National Center for Educational Statistics (2006). Adult education survey of the 2005 National Household Education Survey Program.

Neuman, W. (2011). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (7th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Olesova, L. A., Weasenforth, D., Richardson, J. C., & Meloni, C. (2011). Using asynchronous instructional audio feedback in online environments: A mixed methods study. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 7(1).

O’Neill, T. A., Hambley, L. A., & Chatellier, G. S. (2014). Cyberslacking, engagement and personality in distributed work environments. Computers in Human Behavior, 40,152–160.

Oregon, E., McCoy, L., & Carmon-Johnson, L. (2018). Case analysis: Exploring the application of using rich media technologies and social presence to decrease attrition in an online graduate program. Journal of Educators Online, 15(2), 103–115.

Phillips, P. Wells, J., Ice. P., Curtis, R., & Kennedy, R. (2007). A case study of the relationship between socio-epistemological teaching orientations and instructor perceptions of pedagogy in online environments. Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education, (6) 3-27.

Radovan, M. (2019). Should I stay, or should I go? Revisiting student retention models in distance education. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 20(3), 29–40.

Rajagopal, K., Brinke, D. J., & Sloep, P. B., (2012). Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them. First Monday. (17)1.

Rogers, P., Berg, G., Boettcher, J. Howard, C., Justice, L., & Schenk, K. (2009), Encyclopedia of distance and online learning (2nd ed.). Information Science Reference. Hershey, NY.

Rogers, P. & Lea, M. (2005). Social presence in distributed group environments: The role of social identity. Behavior & Information Technology, 24(2): 151-158.

Rubenson, K. & Desjardins, R. (2009). The impact of welfare states’ regimes on barriers to participation in adult education. Adult Education Quarterly, 59(3), 187–207.

Rourke, L., & Kanuka, H. (2009). Learning in communities of inquiry: A review of the literature. Journal of Distance Education, 23(1), 19–48.

Saykili, A. (2019). Higher education in the digital age: The impact of digital connective technologies. Journal of Educational Technology and Online Learning, 2(1), 1-15.

Scarlett-Ferguson, H. (2011). Leadership in Distance Education: Do We Need a Leadershift? In Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2011 (pp. 2249-2253). AACE.

Smith J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: Theory, method and research. Sage Publications.

Smith, S., Salaway, G., Caruso, J., & Katz, R. N. (2009). The ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, (6).

Smith, M. C. & Smith, T. J. (2008). Low-education adults’ participation in informal activities: Relationships with selected demographic characteristics. Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal, 2(2), 67–73.

Short, J., Williams, E., & Christie, B. (1976). The social psychology of telecommunications. John Wiley & Sons.

Stavredes, T. (2014). Effective online teaching, foundations and strategies for student success. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Tanriverdi, O. & Daraca, F. (2018). Investigating the relationships between adolescents’ levels of cognitive absorption and cyberloafing activities according to demographic characteristics. The Turkish Journal on Addictions. 5(2), 285-315.

The E-Listening Project (2011). E-Listening: Research Project.

Valdez, G. F. D., Cayaban, A. R. R., Al-Fayyadh, S., Korkmaz, M., Obeid, S., Sanchez, C. L. A., Ajzoon, M. B., Fouly, H., & Cruz, J. P. (2020). The utilization of social networking sites, their perceived benefits and their potential for improving the study habits of nursing students in five countries. BMC Nursing, 19(1), 1–14.

Walther, J. B. (1992). Interpersonal effects in computer-mediated interaction: A relational perspective. Communication Research, 19, 52-90.

Wise, A.F., Hausknecht, S.N. & Zhao, Y. (2014). Attending to others’ posts in asynchronous discussions: Learners’ online “listening” and its relationship to speaking. International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. (9), 185–209.

Xie, K. (2013). What do the numbers say? The influence of motivation and peer feedback on students' behaviour in online discussions. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(2), 288-301.


Copyright (c) 2021 Tiffani Bateman

License URL: