Identifying online communities of inquiry in higher education using social network analysis

  • Shazia K. Jan Macquarie University
Keywords: Social network analysis, learning design, online learning, community of inquiry, methodological framework 


This article presents findings from a case study on a fully online bachelor’s level course at an Australian University. The study was undertaken to demonstrate the effectiveness of the integrated methodological framework (IMF) in structurally exploring and identifying online communities of inquiry (CoI). The IMF employs social network analysis (SNA) as the key methodology for exploring community-based learning in light of the communities of practice (CoP) and CoI frameworks. The case study was conducted on two offerings of the same online course with some variations in the design. In line with the intentions of the lecturer to engage students in a CoI, the course included guided, facilitated, and graded weekly discussion activities. On application of the IMF, network diagrams and SNA measures clearly showed the impact of the different learning designs on student online engagement within the discussion forums in each semester. Based on structural components of a CoI within the IMF, a comparative analysis of the networks obtained indicated the formation of an unidentified community in S2 and a CoI in S3. The article discusses findings in terms of effectiveness of the IMF, impact of learning design on community formation and learning analytics in online learning.

Published: 9 June 2018

Citation: Research in Learning Technology 2018, 26: 2064 -


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Author Biography

Shazia K. Jan, Macquarie University

PhD Students & Senior Learning Designer

Department of Educational Studies

How to Cite
Jan S. K. (2018). Identifying online communities of inquiry in higher education using social network analysis. Research in Learning Technology, 26.
Original Research Articles