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The social dimensions of online learning

Nicol, David J. and Minty, Ian and Sinclair, Christine (2003) The social dimensions of online learning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 40 (3). pp. 270-280. ISSN 1470-3297

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This paper explores the social dimensions of online learning - the ways in which learners interact and communicate with other learners and their tutors using electronic communication networks. The context for this exploration is a module provided by a networked, and geographically dispersed, higher education institution. An evaluation of the module draws on the experiences of students and tutors participating in their first online course. Based on these experiences and the research literature, the paper discusses the extent to which face-to-face models of communication should be recreated in online contexts and the extent to which tutors should structure online interaction patterns and modes of discourse. Also examined is the way in which online learning leads to new 'hybrid' and 'converging' styles of communication and to the intermixing of academic and personal discourses. Overall, it is argued that the social context of online learning is qualitatively different from face-to-face learning and that this has significant implications for online learning design.