Be the first to like this
Driven by today’s knowledge economy, many organizations have started looking for innovative methods to train their staff (Yamnill & MacLean, 2001). In this context, online Communities of Learning (CoL) have received a growing amount of attention among practitioners and researchers alike (Rehm, 2009). Yet, despite positive business showcases, empirical research on collaborative (learning) activities has only yielded mixed results (e.g. Simons, Pelled, & Smith, 1999). Moreover, past research on collaborative online communities has either not considered data from real organizations (Edmondson, 2002), or neglected participants’ hierarchical position as a major obstacle to collaborative learning processes (Romme, 1996). The present study addresses these shortcomings by providing empirical evidence from 25 CoL of an online training program that was being implemented for 249 staff members of a global organization. Each CoL consisted of 7 – 13 participants, from different hierarchical positions, who collaboratively enhanced their knowledge via asynchronous discussion forums.
Using social network analysis (Strijbos, Martens, Prins, & Jochems, 2006), we computed participants’ in- and out-degree ties, as well as centrality scores to determine their communication behaviour within CoL. Additionally, based on the content analysis scheme developed by Veerman & Veldhuis-Diermanse (2001), we assessed the level of participants’ contributions.
Our empirical results clearly indicate that hierarchical positions are transferred into the virtual realm and that higher level management plays an important role in CoL. More specifically, participants from higher up the hierarchical ladder held more central positions and contributed a higher amount of task-related messages than their colleagues. Taken together, these insights provide valuable input for future CoL. Considering that hierarchical positions have a significant impact on CoL, HRD practitioners can design collaborative activities that foster the active exchange of information, and device facilitation strategies that encourage an active participation of all members of a CoL.