Understanding emerging knowledge spillovers in small-group learning settings: a networked learning perspective

Rienties, Bart; Nanclares, Nuria Hernandez; Hommes, Juliette and Veermans, Koen (2014). Understanding emerging knowledge spillovers in small-group learning settings: a networked learning perspective. In: Hodgson, Vivien; De Laat, Maarten; McConnell, David and Ryberg, Thomas eds. The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning. Research in Networked Learning, 2. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 127–147.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-01940-6_7


There has been a rapid growth in the use of small groups in teaching and technology-supported networked learning environments to engage students in active learning. Recent research highlights that students learn not only from their group members but also from network connections outside their group, which we refer to as knowledge spillovers. We combined three perspectives of collaborative learning, computer-supported collaborative learning and networked learning in order to understand how these knowledge spillovers emerge in small-group learning settings, thereby providing an integrated theory, practice and pedagogy.

Using a (dynamic) analysis of social learning networks in our two case studies in a blended economics and medical science context, we found that collaborative groups developed knowledge spillovers with other groups over time. In the beginning of the economics course, most groups were primarily working and learning within their group. That is, they primarily focussed on knowledge exchange within their own group. However, after 14 weeks the number of knowledge spillovers to other groups almost tripled. In the medical case study, the majority of learning links were formed outside the formal group structure at the end of the first academic year, in line with principles of networked learning that learners (naturally) develop informal connections. Implications for how teachers can create stronger group interdependencies to encourage knowledge spillovers are discussed.

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