Personal Learning Theory
Generally, my personal theory of learning is that learning is social. Learning is a complex process that requires both knowledge and social interaction to help break it down, evaluate the pieces, then put it back together. At the heart of it, we need social interactions to emotionally support what is shaping in our mind. If we limit ourselves to content only, we actually close ourselves off to other perspectives and different interpretations. Without outside contact, we are sometimes left uncertain of achievement, disconnected from course goals, and ultimately self-reliant to a fault.
This perception of learning is definitely connected to the current research in distance learning. According to Kang and Im (2013), “learners who felt they had a higher degree of interaction with their instructors and other peer learners had higher satisfaction and higher perceived learning outcomes than learners to felt they experienced a lower degree of interaction.” While this isn’t speaking directly to actual course outcomes, the perceptions of students regarding their success in class matters as a selling point at minimum for online learning. If students get an ‘A’ but are not happy about how they earned it or are dissatisfied by the experience, then it is less likely they will continue with online classes. Similarly, Gutman (2001) lists as her number five barrier of “Six Barriers Causing Educators to Resist Teaching Online,” as “Interpersonal Relations” (pg. 54). Gutman states that “for some [teachers], the lack of direct interpersonal contact with both students and faculty is an issue” (pg. 54). The role of social interaction is not just important for the student experience; it is important for instructors as well. These are just a few of the current voices on social learning. However, the concept has been around for decades. Both Lev Vygotsky (1978) and Albert Bandura (1971) theories on the social aspect of learning are really the foundations of the current research surrounding the topic.
The idea that the social interaction/interpersonal connection is the missing piece for online learning is also repeated idea, article after article. Not only is this a topic of ongoing research, but it resonates with my own experience as an online student as well as an online instructor. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s findings from the “Evaluation of Evidence Based Practices,” there is no real difference between the online learning success rate and the traditional face-to-face success rate. The article specifically says that K-12 students “in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction” (pg. xiv). This is because of the ongoing complaint that online learning has a missing piece, the social interaction. In the Horizon Report for Higher Education (2017), it was noted that “higher education continues to move away from traditional, lecture-based lessons toward more hands-on activities, classrooms are starting to resemble real-world work and social environments that foster organic interactions and cross-disciplinary problem-solving.” This shift recognizes the need to create “social environments that foster organic interactions” because those environments mirror the real world. Social interactions are not just ways to create meaningful learning experiences; they also teach us how to function in the real world.
Online Learning/Theory Model
As a Social Constructivist, I want to research current definitions of social presence in online learning. Social presence is a gateway to social learning. I want to do a small-scale confirmatory qualitative study on a proximately 10-12 university students who have experience as an online student. Using Patrick Lowenthal and Chareen Snelson’s seven selected definitions of social presence from their article “In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence,” I would like to create an open ended survey to see how students define social presence in online classes today.
As I move forward with research, I will continue to refine my search terms. I have already adjusted my focus from “social learning” to “social presence” in the online classroom. My next steps are to finish compiling relevant studies on the influence of social presence in online learning and to follow that with peer reviewed articles defining how to incorporate or build social presence in online classes. This last part might be too much for this paper though. Despite this, I intend on using the references from class assignments to help guide my choices. So far, many of the class readings have been relevant to this topic, namely: Stodel, Thompson, and MacDonald’s (2006) article, “Learners’ Perspectives on What is Missing from Online Learning: Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework;” Lowenthal and Snelson’s (2017) article, “In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence;” and Gutman’s (2001) article, “Six Barriers Causing Educators to Resist Teaching Online, and How Institutions Can Break them.” However, after reading Lowenthal & Snelson’s (2017) article, there is a new claim that “social presence might not be essential for a meaningful educational experience.” They go on to specify that certain types of instructional design would benefit from building social presence into the course, but that not all online learning requires social presence. Therefore, I need to expand my research a little more to see what other studies have been done on this front. It also makes me curious about my own research results, if those results would support this new claim.
Allen, Elaine I., and J. S. (2016). Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 1-62.
Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2007). Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning. The Sloan Consortium, 1-31.
Bandura, A. (1971). Social learning theory. Social Learning Theory. New York City: General Learning Press.
Gutman, D. (2001). Six Barriers Causing Teaching Online, Can Break Them. Distance Learning, 9(3).
Kang, M., & Im, T. (2013). Factors of learner-instructor interaction which predict perceived learning outcomes in online learning environment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(3), 292–301.
Lowenthal, P. R., & Snelson, C. (2017). In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence. Distance Education, 38(2), 141–159.
New Media Consortium. (2017). Horizon Report – 2017 Higher Education Edition. Horizon Report, 1-60.
Stodel, E. J., & Thompson, T. L. (2006). Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 7(3), 1–15.
U.S. Department of Education. (2010). “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning,” 1-94.
Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in society : the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.