Visualising the invisible: a network approach to reveal the informal social side of student learning

Juliette Hommes, Bart Rienties, Willem Grave, Gerard Bos, Lambertus Schuwirth, Albert Scherpbier

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    142 Citations (Scopus)


    World-wide, universities in health sciences have transformed their curriculum to include collaborative learning and facilitate the students' learning process. Interaction has been acknowledged to be the synergistic element in this learning context. However, students spend the majority of their time outside their classroom and interaction does not stop outside the classroom. Therefore we studied how informal social interaction influences student learning. Moreover, to explore what really matters in the students learning process, a model was tested how the generally known important constructs-prior performance, motivation and social integration-relate to informal social interaction and student learning. 301 undergraduate medical students participated in this cross-sectional quantitative study. Informal social interaction was assessed using self-reported surveys following the network approach. Students' individual motivation, social integration and prior performance were assessed by the Academic Motivation Scale, the College Adaption Questionnaire and students' GPA respectively. A factual knowledge test represented student' learning. All social networks were positively associated with student learning significantly: friendships (β = 0.11), providing information to other students (β = 0.16), receiving information from other students (β = 0.25). Structural equation modelling revealed a model in which social networks increased student learning (r = 0.43), followed by prior performance (r = 0.31). In contrast to prior literature, students' academic motivation and social integration were not associated with students' learning. Students' informal social interaction is strongly associated with students' learning. These findings underline the need to change our focus from the formal context (classroom) to the informal context to optimize student learning and deliver modern medics.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)743-757
    Number of pages15
    JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


    • Collaborative learning
    • Cooperative learning
    • Informal learning
    • Non-formal learning
    • Social networks
    • Student learning


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