Technology, Knowledge and Learning

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 621–639 | Cite as

Social Network Analysis: A Framework for Identifying Communities in Higher Education Online Learning

  • Shazia K. JanEmail author
  • Panos Vlachopoulos
Original research


This paper presents the Integrated Methodological Framework (IMF) which uses social network analysis (SNA) to structurally identify communities in higher education online learning (HEOL). Decades of research speaks for the value of community-based learning albeit in traditional, blended, or online environments. The communities of practice (CoP) and community of inquiry (CoI) are well-established, empirically tested frameworks that have been effectively used for exploration of community-based learning in professional and educational contexts. Typically, research using these frameworks has required extensive qualitative analysis making it tedious and time-consuming. Pivoting on structural similarities between networks and communities, the IMF embeds SNA constructs in structural components of the CoP and CoI frameworks. By structurally identifying a CoP and CoI, the IMF allows targeted, selective qualitative analysis thus reducing the extent of qualitative analysis required previously in research using the CoP and CoI frameworks. Application of the IMF is demonstrated in a case study on an online blogging network. The study substantiates the IMF as an effective framework for structural identification of a CoP and CoI. The validity and robustness of the IMF is being further tested in ongoing research.


Social network analysis Learning analytics Online learning Communities of practice Community of inquiry Methodological framework 



The research has been funded through the Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship, Macquarie University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Macquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Macquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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