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Do hierarchical positions influence participant’s network behaviour within  Communities of Learning?
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Do hierarchical positions influence participant’s network behaviour within Communities of Learning?

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We investigate whether hierarchical positions have an impact on collaborative learning processes within ...

We investigate whether hierarchical positions have an impact on collaborative learning processes within
Communities of Learning(CoL). More specifically, we provide empirical evidence from a training program
of a global organization. Using social network analysis, our findings indicate that hierarchical positions
significantly influence participants’ network behaviour. Moreover, our results show that individuals tend to
gather information from outside of their own hierarchical position.

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Do hierarchical positions influence participant’s network behaviour within  Communities of Learning? Do hierarchical positions influence participant’s network behaviour within Communities of Learning? Document Transcript

  • AECT 2012 – Louisville, Kentucky Do hierarchical positions influence participant’s network behaviour within Communities of Learning? Martin Rehm, Wim Gijselaers, Mien SegersDescription1) Completed Study that includes analyzed results and discussionsWe investigate whether hierarchical positions have an impact on collaborative learning processes withinCommunities of Learning (CoL). More specifically, we provide empirical evidence from a training programof a global organization. Using social network analysis, our findings indicate that hierarchical positionssignificantly influence participants’ network behaviour. Moreover, our results show that individuals tend togather information from outside of their own hierarchical position.KeywordsDistance Education, Management, Performance SupportExtended AbstractIn today’s turbulent economic environment, employers and employees constantly need to update theirknowledge and skills in order to face new challenges (Chalmers & Keown, 2006). Moreover, it has beensuggested that facilitating an interpersonal knowledge transfer among employees should constitute a keybuilding block in setting up organizational training initiatives (Argote, 2000). However, in practice,organizations continue to mainly implement traditional teaching methods, such as face-to-face workshops,to train their staff (Armstrong & Sadler-Smith, 2008). With increasing pressures to provide more cost-effective training, this has led practitioners and researchers alike to look for more innovative trainingmethods (Yamnill & MacLean, 2001). In this context, online Communities of Learning (CoL) have beensuggested to foster the effective exchange of knowledge and experience between members of anorganization’s workforce (Rehm, 2009). However, past research on collaborative online communities haseither provided only limited empirical evidence from real organizations (Edmondson, 2002), or neglectedparticipants’ hierarchical positions, which can be a major obstacle to collaborative learning processes(Romme, 1996). It has generally been established that, depending on their hierarchical position, participants willdisplay varying communication behaviours within collaborative learning processes (Bird, 1994). Someresearchers provide evidence that online communication, e.g. via electronic mail, can initiate a “statusequalization” process (Sproul & Kiesler, 1986). In contrast, authors like Yates and Orlikowski (1992)suggested that the prevailing status quo will be reinforced, irrespective of the chosen communication tool.Similarly, based on qualitative data from on-going workgroups and learning teams, Sutton and colleagues(2000) found a positive relationship between the hierarchical position of participants and their level ofactivity. More specifically, higher level management tended to replicate their accustomed behaviour ofleading teams in real-life, translating into them also leading their assigned online groups. In view of theseambiguous findings, HRD practitioners are in need for a better understanding of how existing structuresand social relationships influence peoples’ behaviour within online collaborative learning environments. The present study provides empirical evidence from 25 CoL of an online training program thatwas provided for 249 staff members of a global organization. Each CoL consisted of 7 – 13 participants andwas centred around asynchronous discussion forums, where participants from different hierarchicalpositions collaboratively enhanced their knowledge. Using social network analysis, we analysed whetherparticipants’ hierarchical positions influenced their communication behaviour within CoL. Based on theresulting findings, it is not only possible to locate (groups of) individuals that hold crucial positions, butalso to suggest actions targeted at participants who are situated more towards the fringe of the network. Based on the user statistics from the asynchronous discussion forums, we computed twocommonly used network statistics to assess an individual’s general network behaviour, namely participants’in- and out-degree ties. The in-degree measure indicates how often and by how many colleagues aparticular individual has been contacted from within a CoL. Out-degree network connections refer to linksbetween colleagues that originate from a particular CoL member. Additionally, we were also interested inwhether CoL exhibited signs of homophily. In the context of this study, this concept suggests that
  • participants from the same hierarchical position would tend to communicate more frequently within theirown subgroup. In order to approximate this effect, we used the external-internal (E-I) index. Moreover, wesubdivided the data according to “Read-“ and “Reply- networks”, capturing passive and active learningbehaviours, respectively. The attained data was then used to test the following research hypotheses: · H1: Participants hierarchical positions will have a positive influence on their amount of out- degree network ties. · H2: Participants hierarchical position will have a positive influence on their amount of in-degree network ties. · Hypothesis 3: Participants will tend to interact more with colleagues from the same hierarchical position. While we do not find evidence to support the first two hypotheses for the “Read-networks”, we areable to show significant differences in participants’ network behaviour for the “Reply-networks”. Morespecifically, participants from higher up the hierarchical ladder tended to be more active in connecting withother colleagues, as well as attracting more attention within the CoL. We are also able to show that the CoLare not subject to homophily. Quite on the contrary, our results indicate a general tendency of hierarchicalpositions to gather information from outside their own subgroup. Taken together, our study provides valuable insights for HRD practitioners that consider theimplementation of similar training initiatives. The empirical results clearly indicate that hierarchicalpositions are transferred into the virtual realm and that higher level management plays an important role inCoL. By incorporating these insights into the implementation of future CoL, it is not only possible toanticipate participants’ behaviour. Our findings also allow to draw conclusions about how collaborativelearning activities within CoL should be designed and facilitated, in order to provide employees with avaluable learning experience. Moreover, we are able to show that CoL foster interpersonal knowledgetransfer across hierarchical positions, which allows organizations to create a fruitful learning environmentwhere thoughts are exchanged and new ideas can be created.