Frontiers in Medicine | Investigation about the influence of online collaborative learning on social networks and academic performance

The social distancing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have changed students' learning environments and limited their social interactions. As with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), where students in the same course can only contact fellow students by the Internet instead of face-to-face, the larger transactional distance may increase the communication cost and lead to low engagement and high demands on students’ motivation. To enhance educational institutions' readiness for future situations in which students must maintain social distancing, it is important to know whether and how social distancing relates to medical students' social network formation and academic performance. Thus, this study investigates the influence of social distancing restrictions on students' social networks, well-being, and academic performance.

On 09 August 2023, Xiaoming Xu and her coauthors published their article, entitled "Influence of online collaborative learning on social network and academic performance of medical students: lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic" on Frontiers in Medicine.

This research performed a questionnaire study in which 102 students in the Netherlands participated before and 167 students during the pandemic. They completed an online questionnaire about how they formed their five peer social networks (study-related support, collaboration, friendship, share information, and learn-from) out of class. The authors performed social network analysis to compare the sizes, structures, and compositions of students' five social networks before and during the pandemic, between first- and second-year students, and between international and domestic students. Additionally, they performed Kruskal–Wallis H test to compare students' academic performance before and during the pandemic. They performed a thematic analysis to answers for two open-end questions in the online questionnaire to explore what difficulties students encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic and what support students needed.

The results of this study showed that the size of students' social networks during the pandemic was significantly smaller than before the pandemic. Besides, the formation of social networks differed between first- and second-year students, and between domestic and international students. However, academic performance did not decline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the authors identified three key areas in which students experienced difficulties and needed support by thematic analysis: social connections and interactions, learning and studying, and physical and mental well-being.

The study enlightened us that when institutions implement learning with social distancing, such as online learning, they need to consider changes in students’ social networks and provide appropriate support.

The coauthors of this study consists of Yan Zhou (Zhejiang Normal University), Johanna, Jasprina, Nicolaas, and Agnes (University of Groningen in the Netherlands). Yan and Xiaoming contrubutes equally and state as the joint first authors of this paper.

Link to the full article:

Dr. Xiaoming Xu at ZJU-ISM: