The strength of cohesive ties: discursive construction of an online learning community

Ferguson, Rebecca; Gillen, Julia; Peachey, Anna and Twining, Peter (2013). The strength of cohesive ties: discursive construction of an online learning community. In: Childs, Mark and Peachey, Anna eds. Understanding Learning in Virtual Worlds. Human-Computer Interaction Series. London: Springer, pp. 83–100.



Learning takes place in a social context, shaping and shaped by discourses. In online projects such as the Schome Park Programme, these discourses are material-semiotic practices that make use of writing and other manifestations of digital literacies. Discourses include traceable patterns with linguistic features of distinctive forms and functions. Employing a sociocultural perspective of discourse as mediated interaction (Scollon, Mediated discourse as social interaction: a study of news discourse. Longman, London/New York, 1998), we identify use of register and cohesive ties as salient to the practices of learning communities. The study reported here focuses on two groups of teenagers, one a formal learning community based in the USA, the other a larger, online, informal learning community based in the UK. The groups were originally only weakly tied within a network, but aimed to work together within the virtual world environment, despite some different aims. Working with McMillan’s (J Community Psychol, 24(4):315–325, 1996) concept of community as characterised by spirit, authority, trade and art, we illustrate how misalignments in register and problems with cohesive ties can be associated with difficulties in the cooperative learning enterprise and we also make recommendations for future practice.

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