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Birds of a Feather? - Do Participants’ Hierarchical Positions activate Homophily within Communities of Learning?

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Communities of Learning (CoL) are promoted to foster interpersonal knowledge transfer among participants of organizational training initiatives. Moreover, previous studies have posited that homophily can significantly affect the communication processes among participants that exhibit differing background characteristics. However, past research has largely neglected a particular background characteristic, namely hierarchical positions, which have been suggested to constitute a major obstacle for collaborative learning processes. By providing empirical evidence from 25 CoL of a global organization, where participants from different parts of an organization’s hierarchical ladder collaboratively enhanced their knowledge and skills, the current study addresses this shortcoming and investigates whether and to what extent the applicable CoL have been subject to homophily. Based on an underlying social network analysis, our results show no signs of homophily. Instead, we rather find an “externalness”, whereby participants particularly turned to colleagues from outside their own hierarchical position. By incorporating these findings into the design and implementation, organizers of future CoL can device learning activities and facilitation strategies that can further enhance participants’ learning experience and outcomes.

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Birds of a Feather? - Do Participants’ Hierarchical Positions activate Homophily within Communities of Learning?

  1. 1. Birds of a Feather? Do Participants’ Hierarchical Positions activate Homophily within Communities of Learning? Dr. Martin Rehm, Prof. Wim Gijselaers, Prof. Mien Segers 15th Biennial EARLI Conference München, 27 August 2013
  2. 2. Training in Organizations
  3. 3. Community of Learning groups of diverse people “engaging in collaborative learning and reflective practice involved in transformative learning” (Paloff and Pratt, 2003, p. 17)
  4. 4. “Birds of a Feather” (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001)
  5. 5. Homophily • “the principle that a contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people.” (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001, p. 416) • homophily can stem from individuals’ membership to a certain organizational unit (e.g. Borgatti & Foster, 2003)  Status Homophily (Lazarsfeld & Merton, 1954)
  6. 6. Pro(s) • improve the coordination process (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992) • limit the potential occurrence of conflicts (Pelled, Eisenhardt, & Xin, 1999) Con(s) • prevent organizations from effectively stimulating an interpersonal knowledge transfer among employees from diverse backgrounds (Akkerman, Admiraal, Simons, & Niessen, 2006)
  7. 7. Hierarchical Positions
  8. 8. • information flows in learning networks are often constrained by formal structures (e.g. Cross, Laseter, Parker, & Velasquez, 2006) • occupying high-level positions within an organization provides individuals with an intrinsic attraction to lower level management (Casciaro, 1998) • individuals might prefer to seek help from socially proximate others to reduce the risk of appearing incompetent (Bamberger, 2009)
  9. 9. Participants’ Hierarchical Positions activate Homophily within Communities of Learning
  10. 10. Setting • online training program of a large international organization • 14 weeks of online learning • 25 CoL – 249 participants  ~ 10 participants per CoL – Hierarchical Positions: 82 “Low”, 93 “Middle”, 74 “High” • asynchronous discussions forums: – Café-Talk – Content-Related (real-life tasks)
  11. 11. Instruments Social Network Analysis • External – Internal Index  ranges from -1 (all ties are internal) to +1 (all ties are external) Read Networks & Reply Networks (Daradoumis, Martínez-Monés, & Xhafa, 2004)
  12. 12. E-I Read
  13. 13. E-I Reply
  14. 14. Discussion • No Homophily (rather “externalness”)  CoL can foster transactive knowledge transfer • Read Networks (Passive Learning) – equally distributed • Reply Networks (Active Learning) – high degree of fluctuation
  15. 15. • scaffolding activities that structure the learning and interaction processes of participants (e.g. Beers, Boshuizen, Kirschner, & Gijselaers, 2005; Weinberger & Fischer, 2006) • asking facilitators to possibly: – “smoothen out” observed fluctuations – decrease “selective reading process” – actively engage all participants Recommendations
  16. 16. rehm@merit.unu.edu

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