A.N. Diep, C. Zhu, C. Cocquyt, T. Vanwing

Vrije Universiteit Brussel (BELGIUM)
Motivating students to actively participate in online interactions has been realized as integral to success in online learning. A great number of studies researched instructional designs that best facilitate online interactions among students. Notably, in these studies, the intervention has been applied in settings where participation in online discussion was made compulsory. However, in adult education context, this requirement is rarely imposed. Rather, adult learners are encouraged to contribute online, but not being assessed based on their contributions. Thus, online knowledge construction is less likely to occur. This scenario of voluntarily involved in online discussion for the sake of learning is analogous to virtual learning communities (VLCs), who gather together to share their expertise with others without any apparent benefits. There are plenty studies using a social capital framework to interpret online knowledge sharing among members of VLCs (e.g. Chiu, Hsu, & Wang, 2006, Chang & Chuang, 2011). In the context of adult education, studies examining aspects of social capital as motivational factors are rarely found. Second, most studies examine students’ online interactions as whole-group experience (e.g. Ke & Xie, 2009), but not individual contributions. Therefore, in the present study, we propose a framework to examine factors affecting adult learners’ knowledge contribution in online learning environment from both social capital and individual motivation perspectives.

We include trust, norms of reciprocity, sense of belonging to the classmates as measures of social capital and altruism and perceived learning benefits as personal motivation variables. These independent factors are hypothesized to predict three types of online interactions, namely, discussion contribution, discussion facilitation, and social interactions. The participants (N=181) are students following Specific Teacher Training programs in four centres for adult education in Belgium. Based on prominent frameworks for defining online interactions in existing studies, we designed a quantitative instrument to measure the three types of online interactions mentioned. A series of multiple regressions were conducted to test the hypotheses. The results show that perceived learning benefits and sense of belonging are the significant factors that predict discussion contribution, β=.285, p<.001, β=.149, p<.05, and social interaction, β=.169, p<.05, β=.249, p<.001, respectively. Only perceived learning benefits have a significant effect on discussion facilitation, β=.212, p<.01. When socio-demographic variables are examined in further analysis, only educational background was found to be related to discussion contribution, β=-.178, p<.05. The findings suggest that personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning activities and a mutually inclusive environment should be emphasized for more online knowledge construction to occur.

[1] Chang, H. H., & Chuang, S. S. (2011). Social capital and individual motivations on knowledge sharing: Participant involvement as a moderator. Information & management, 48(1), 9-18.
[2] Chiu, C. M., Hsu, M. H., & Wang, E. T. (2006). Understanding knowledge sharing in virtual communities: An integration of social capital and social cognitive theories. Decision support systems, 42(3), 1872-1888.
[3] Ke, F., & Xie, K. (2009). Toward deep learning for adult students in online courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 12(3), 136-145.