Learning in the wild: Predicting the formation of ties in ‘Ask’ subreddit communities using ERG models [New Study]

One of the research initiatives at the Social Media Lab over the last few years has been a project called, “Learning Analytics for the Social Media Age.” Learning analytics is “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.” The initiative has three primary goals to:

  • examine and understand “How do social media networks influence educational models?”
  • devise new theoretical and technical solutions that will help educators and researchers to study learning processes occurring in social media,
  • provide educators and learners with analytical tools that will help them to determine whether their use of social media is beneficial to their teaching or learning.

Ties Formation in ‘Ask’ Subreddit Communities:

As part of this research initiative, we recently conducted a study using Exponential Random Graph Models (ERGM) to examine the variables that can predict the formation of learning ties in online informal environments such as social media sites. This work is being presented this week as part of the Networked Learning Conference 2018  in Zagreb Croatia. The paper is available for download at: http://networkedlearningconference.org.uk/abstracts/papers/del-valle_14.pdf


The theoretical lenses, empirical measures and analytical tools associated with social network analysis comprise a wealth of knowledge that can be used to analyse networked learning. This has popularized the use of the social network analysis approach to understand and visualize structures and dynamics in online learning networks, particularly where data could be automatically gathered and analysed. Research in the field of social network learning analysis has (a) used social network visualizations as a feedback mechanism and an intervention to enhance online social learning activities (Bakharia & Dawson, 2011; Schreurs, Teplovs, Ferguson, de Laat, & Buckingham Shum, 2013), (b) investigated what variables predicted the formation of learning ties in networked learningprocesses (Cho, Gay, Davidson, & Ingraffea, 2007), (c) predicted learning outcomes in online environments (Russo & Koesten, 2005), and (d) studied the nature of the learning ties (de Laat, 2006). This paper expands the understanding of the variables predicting the formation of learning ties in online informal environments. Reddit, an online news sharing site that is commonly referred to as ‘the front page of the Internet’, has been chosen as the environment for our investigation because conversations on it emerge from the contributions of members, and it combines perspectives of experts and non-experts (Moore & Chuang, 2017) taking place in a plethora of subcultures (subreddits) occurring outside traditional settings. We study two subreddit communities, ‘AskStatistics’, and ‘AskSocialScience’, in which we believe that informal learning is likely to happen in Reddit, and which offer avenues for comparison both in terms of the communication dynamics and learning processes occurring between members. We gathered all the interactions amongst the users of these two subreddit communities for a 1-year period, from January 1st, 2015 until December 31st, 2015. Exponential Random Graph models (ERGm) were employed to determine the endogenous (network) and exogenous (node attributes) factors facilitating the networked ties amongst the users of these communities. We found evidence that Redditors’ networked ties arise from network dynamics (reciprocity and transitivity) and from the Redditors’ role as a moderator in the subreddit communities. These results shed light into the understanding of the variables predicting the formation of ties in informal networked learning environments, and more broadly contribute to the development of the field of social network learning analysis.

Social Network Learning Analysis; Informal Learning; Reddit; Subreddit Communities; ERGm


Marc Esteve Del Valle
Department of Media Studies and Journalism, University of Groningen, m.esteve.del.valle@rug.nl

Anatoliy Gruzd
Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, gruzd@ryerson.ca

Caroline Haythornthwaite
School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, chaythor@syr.edu

Priya Kumar
Social Media Lab, Ryerson University, p1kumar@ryerson.ca

Sara Gilbert
The iSchool, University of British Columbia, s.gilbert@ubc.ca

Drew Paulin
School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, drew.paulin@ischool.berkeley.edu