PERFORMANCES OF TRUST AMONG LEARNERS IN THE CONTEXT OF ONLINE SOCIAL LEARNING: THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF ONLINE LEARNING
Research on online learning indicates that there is still much to be learned before its anticipated potential can be reached. Many learners report low satisfaction rates, academic institutions report inferior student-student interactions and struggle to retain students in online courses, and research shows mixed results concerning the effectiveness of online learning. One of the key factors shaping the success of online learning is the social dimension of online teaching and learning. Researchers have explored the development of communities of learners; the social roles of teachers and students; the creation of online social presence, social interaction, and transactional distance; and social ability to understand how the social dimension of online learning can be mediated to improve online learning experiences and outcomes. Although the findings from these studies have been helpful, online learning still faces the same challenges in learner satisfaction, retention, social interaction, and quality of learning. A common thread among the research findings is that the quality of social interaction matters. We hypothesize that trust may be a critical component in facilitating more successful social learning interactions.
This paper reports on the preliminary findings of a research study on “Performances of Trust among Learners in the Context of Online Social Learning: The Social Dimension of Online Learning.” The purpose of this study is to gain insights into learners' understandings of trust, their social construction of trust, and the influence of trusting relationships upon learning in the context of online social learning. We focus on the micro-sociological level of social interaction as our unit of analysis and take a qualitative interview approach, which will help develop thick descriptions of learners' understandings of trust, how trust is socially constructed in their online social interactions, and how trust shapes their learning. We use the research findings of previous studies of trust to provide general guidelines, as sensitizing concepts, heuristic ideas, to point us in the 'directions along which to look' as we interview online social learners.