Online Course Design, Social Learning Theory and Collaboration

   Often, when people think of online learning, distance learning or e-learning, interaction and collaboration are not characteristics generally attributed to this kind of academic environment. This post will explore the effects of social learning theory in online learning forums and demonstrate how collaboration can still effectively happen. In online learning environments, social interaction is possible whether in synchronous or asynchronous programs, and if the goal is for students to collaborate, then what should be emphasized in online learning environments is the act of forming relationships. Online discussions, according to Zimmerman (2011), “have the potential for being effective seminars and forums for collaborative learning; however they are not always designed that way” (para. 3). Online courses can offer great opportunities for deep, rich engagement with materials, “but the social aspects of group dynamics need to be taken into account for greater effectiveness” (Zimmerman, 2011, para. 3). For instance, online courses have to be designed in a way that collaboration and social interaction is not only possible, but also encouraged, with access to applications and functions that allow for relationships and bonds to form. By having discussion forums, video chat and the ability to mutually engage in online activities, bonds and collaborative teams are more likely form and social learning theory can be adapted to this new pedagogy.

    According to Waight, and Stewart, (2005), “social learning shares the belief that new skills and behaviours come from directly experiencing the consequences of using behaviour or skills or the process of observing others and seeing the consequences of their behaviour. Context of interface, interaction, and learning activities that guide the learner to connect with their workplaces are examples that can enable social learning in an e-learning course” (342). As long as online courses are conducive to collaboration, social interaction will occur and this type of learning theory will be relevant in online education.

    The facilitator’s role in online courses is important in determining if the class will take a collaborative approach. For example, when developing the course material, the facilitator doesn’t only have to reference social learning theory alone, but can “use a combination of theories to develop online learning materials” (Ally, 2004, p. 38). It is important to understand that new theories are emerging and they should be used when developing course material for online classes, and the course instructor needs to be familiar with the different theories of learning in order to utilize the most appropriate instructional techniques (Ally, 2004, p. 38). These strategies will play a significant part in the level of collaboration that ensues in an online course, because these strategies should be selected to “motivate learners, facilitate deep processing, build the whole person, cater for individual differences, promote meaningful learning, encourage interaction, provide feedback, facilitate contextual learning, and provide support during the learning process (Ally, 2004, p. 38).



 Ally, Mohamed. (2004). Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning. In T. Anderson and F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theories of Practice and of Online Learning (Chapter 1). Retrieved from

 Waight, Consuelo, & Stewart, Barbara. (2005). Valuing the adult learner in e-learning: part one – a conceptual model for corporate settings. Journal of Workplace Learning, 17 (5/6).

 Zimmerman, Lynn. (2011, January 2). Critical Importance of Social Interaction in Online Courses. Retrieved from


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