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Theoretical Foundations for Enhancing Social Connectedness in Online Learning Environments


Distance Education Volume 30, Number 3, ISSN 0158-7919


Group social structure provides a comfortable and predictable context for interaction in learning environments. Students in face-to-face learning environments process social information about others in order to assess traits, predict behaviors, and determine qualifications for assuming particular responsibilities within a group. In online learning environments, however, negotiating social information and maintaining social connectedness can pose challenges for participants. Nonverbal strategies one typically uses for enhancing communication and overcoming ambiguity--such as an approving smile or a questioning brow--must be approached differently while learning online where fewer sensory communication channels are typically available. We present the theoretical foundation for how social information processing and group structure theories may be combined to assist instructional designers in further examining the social system perceived by the online learner. We propose a framework for thinking more systematically about the development of group social structure in online learning environments. (Contains 2 figures and 1 table.)


Slagter van Tryon, P.J. & Bishop, M.J. (2009). Theoretical Foundations for Enhancing Social Connectedness in Online Learning Environments. Distance Education, 30(3), 291-315. Retrieved December 12, 2019 from .

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