A dynamic analysis of why learners develop a preference for autonomous learners in computer-mediated communication

B.C. Rienties*, D.T. Tempelaar, S.J.H. Giesbers, M.S.R. Segers, W.H. Gijselaers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A large number of studies in CMC have assessed how social interaction, processes and learning outcomes are intertwined. The present research explores how the degree of self-determination of learners, that is the motivational orientation of a learner, influences the communication and interaction patterns in an online Problem Based Learning environment. Given the complexity of CMC, we expected that autonomous learners would be more willing to contribute to cognitive discourse. In time, we expected that control-oriented learners would develop a preferential attachment to contribute to discourse from autonomous learners. Data were gathered from 37 autonomous and 39 control-oriented learners who posted 1669 messages. Using a dynamic multi-method approach of content analysis of cognitive and social discourse, social network analysis, and measures of academic motivation, we find some preliminary evidence that motivational orientation influences communication and social interaction patterns amongst learners. From the beginning, most control-oriented learners develop a preference to connect to and communicate with autonomous learners, although a separate team-analysis indicates that group dynamics also influence how learners develop connections with other learners in time. Our findings further the understanding of differences found in distance learning courses about participation and drop-out.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-648
Number of pages18
JournalInteractive LearnIng Environments
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • academic motivation
  • content analysis
  • social network analysis
  • longitudinal perspective
  • online environment
  • mixed method


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