The impact of hierarchical positions on communities of learning

  • Martin Rehm
  • Wim GijselaersEmail author
  • Mien Segers


Communities of Learning (CoL) are an innovative methodological tool to stimulate knowledge creation and diffusion within organizations. However, past research has largely overlooked how participants’ hierarchical positions influence their behavior within CoL. We address this shortcoming and provide empirical evidence on 25 CoL for a global training program, analyzing user statistics from 249 staff members. Our results indicate that participants’ level of activity and performance are significantly influenced by their hierarchical position. We also discover a duality among participants holding low hierarchical positions. The implications of these results and future research avenues are discussed.


Communities of learning Content analysis Hierarchical positions Learning in organizations 


  1. Alavi, M., Yoo, Y., & Vogel, D. R. (1997). Using information technology to add value to management education. The Academy of Management Journal, 40(6), 1310–1333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arbaugh, J. B., & Benbunan-Finch, R. (2006). An investigation of epistemological and social dimensions of teaching in online learning environments. The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 5(4), 435–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Argote, L., & Ingram, P. (2000). Knowledge transfer: A basis for competitive advantage in firms. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82(1), 150–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armstrong, S. J., & Sadler-Smith, E. (2008). Learning on demand, at your own pace, in rapid bite-sized chunks: The future shape of management development? The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 7(4), 571–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arts, J. A., Gijselaers, W. H., & Boshuizen, H. (2006). Understanding managerial problem-solving, knowledge use and information processing: Investigating stages from school to the workplace. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 31(4), 387–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Banerjee, M., Capozzoli, M., McSweeney, L., & Sinha, D. (1999). Beyond Kappa: A review of interrater agreement measures. The Canadian Journal of Statistics / La Revue Canadienne de Statistique, 27(1), 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Banfield, J. D., & Raftery, A. E. (1993). Model-based Gaussian and non-Gaussian clustering. Biometrics, 49, 803–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berger, J., & Fişek, M. H. (2006). Diffuse status characteristics and the spread of status value: A formal theory 1. American Journal of Sociology, 111(4), 1038–1079.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berger, J., Ridgeway, C. L., Fisek, M. H., & Norman, R. Z. (1998). The legitimation and delegitimation of power and prestige orders. American Sociological Review, 63(3), 379–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bird, A. (1994). Careers as repositories of knowledge : A new perspective on boundaryless careers. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 15, 325–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brower, H. H. (2003). On emulating classroom discussion in a distance-delivered OBHR course: Creating an on-line learning community. The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2(1), 22–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bunderson, J. S. (2003a). Recognizing and utilizing expertise in work groups: A status characteristics perspective. Administrative Science Quarterly, 48(4), 557–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bunderson, J. S. (2003b). Team memeber functional background and involvement in management teams: Direct effects and the moderating role of power centralization. Academy of Management Journal, 46(4), 458–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bunderson, J. S., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2002). Comparing alternative conceptualizations of functional diversity in management teams: Process and performance effects. Academy of Management Journal, 45(5), 875–893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Caspi, A., Gorsky, P., & Chajut, E. (2003). The influence of group size on nonmandatory asynchronous instructional discussion groups. The Internet and Higher Education, 6(3), 227–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Caspi, A., Chajut, E., Saporta, K., & Beyth-Marom, R. (2006). The influence of personality on social participation in learning environments. Learning and Individual Differences, 16, 129–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chalmers, L., & Keown, P. (2006). Communities of practice and professional development. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 25(2), 139–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cho, H., Gay, G., Davidson, B., & Ingraffea, A. (2007). Social Networks, communication styles, and learning performance in a CSCL community. Computers & Education, 49, 309–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cohen, J. (1992). Statistics a power primer. Psychology Bulletin, 112, 155–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cohen, E. G. (1994). Restructuring the classroom: Conditions for productive small groups. Review of Educational Research, 64(1), 1–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cohen, S. G., & Bailey, D. E. (1997). What makes teams work: Gruop effectiveness research from the shop floor to the executive suite. Journal of Management, 23, 239–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cohen, B. P., & Zhou, X. (1991). Status Processes in Enduring Work Groups. American Sociological Review, 56(2), 179–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cortina, J. M. (1993). What is coefficient alpha? An examination of theory and applications. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78(1), 98–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cramton, C. D., & Hinds, P. J. (2005). Subgroup dynamics in internationally distributed teams: Ethnocentrism or cross-national learning? Research in Organizational Behavior, 26, 231–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Cress, U. (2008). The need for considering multilevel analysis in CSCL research—An appeal for the use of more advanced statistical methods. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 3(1), 69–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. De Laat, M., & Lally, V. (2003). Complexity, theory and praxis: Researching collaborative learning and tutoring processes in a networked learning community. Instructional Science, 31(1–2), 7–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. de Wever, B., Schellens, T., Valcke, M., & Van Keer, H. (2006). Content analysis schemes to analyze transcripts of online asynchronous discussion groups: A review. Computers & Education, 46(1), 6–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. DeChurch, L. A., & Mesmer-Magnus, J. R. (2010). The cognitive underpinnings of effective teamwork: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 32–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dochy, F., & McDowell, L. (1997). Assessment as a tool for learning. Studies In Educational Evaluation, 23(4), 279–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dochy, F., Segers, M., & Buehl, M. M. (1999). The relation between assessment practices and outcomes of studies: The case of research on prior knowledge. Review of Educational Research, 69(2), 145–186. doi: 10.3102/00346543069002145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Edmondson, A. C. (2002). The local and variegated nature of learning in organizations: A group-level perspective. Organization Science, 13(2), 128–146. doi: 10.1287/orsc. Scholar
  32. Eraut, M. (2000). Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70, 113–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Foldy, G. E., Rivard, P., & Buckley, T. R. (2009). Power, safety, and learning in racially diverse groups. The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 8(1), 25–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Garavan, T. N., Carbery, R., O'Malley, G., & O'Donnell, D. (2010). Understanding participation in e-learning in organizations: A large-scale empirical study of employees. International Journal of Training and Development, 14(3), 155–168. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2419.2010.00349.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gunawardena, C. N., & Zittle, F. J. (1997). Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer†mediated conferencing environment. American Journal of Distance Education, 11(3), 8–26. doi: 10.1080/08923649709526970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gunawardena, C. N., Lowe, C. A., & Anderson, T. (1997). Analysis of a global online debate and the development of an interaction analysis model for examining social construction of knowledge in computer conferencing. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 17(4), 397–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hakkarainen, K., Palonen, T., Paavola, S., & Lehtinen, E. (2004). Communities of networked expertise: Professional and educational perspectives. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  38. Hamel, G., & Green, B. (2007). The Future of Management. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  39. Harasim, L. (1993). Collaborating in cyberspace: Using computer conferences as a group learning environment. Interactive Learning Environments, 3, 119–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hung, D. W. L., & Der-Thanq, C. (2001). Situated cognition, vygotskian thought and learning from the communities of practice perspective: Implications for the design of Web-based learning. Educational Media International, 38(1), 3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Im, Y., & Lee, O. (2004). Pedagogical implications of online discussion for preservice teacher training. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(2), 155–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Järvelä, S., Järvenoja, H., & Veermans, M. (2008). Understanding the dynamics of motivation in socially shared learning. International Journal of Educational Research, 47(2), 122–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jehn, K. A. (1995). A multimethod examination of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40(2), 256–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jehn, K. A., & Bezrukova, K. (2004). A field study of group diversity, workgroup context, and performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(6), 703–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jehn, K. A., Northcraft, G. B., & Neale, M. A. (1999). Why differences make a difference: A field study of diversity, conflict, and performance in workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(4), 741–763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Joinson, A. N. (2001). Self disclosure in computer mediated communication: The role of self awareness and visual anonymity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31(2), 177–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kane, G. C., & Alavi, M. (2007). Information technology and organizational learning: An investigation of exploration and exploitation processes. Organization Science, 18(5), 796–812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Keegan, D. (1980). On defining distance education. Distance Education, 1(1), 13–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kirwan, C., & Birchall, D. (2006). Transfer of learning from management development programmes: Testing the Holton model. International Journal of Training and Development, 10(4), 252–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Krackhardt, D. (1990). Assessing the political landscape: Structure, cognition, and power in organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35, 342–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Leonard, D., & Sensiper, S. (1998). The Role of Tacit Knowledge in Group Innovation. California Management Review, 40(3), 112–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Magurran, A. E. (1988). Ecological diversity and its measurement. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Milliken, F. J., & Martins, L. L. (1996). Searching for common threads: understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups. Academy of Management Review, 21(2), 402–433.Google Scholar
  55. Nachmias, R., Mioduser, D., Oren, A., & Ram, J. (2000). Web-supported emergent-collaboration in higher education courses. Journal of Educational Technology and Society, 3(3), 94–104.Google Scholar
  56. Nembhard, I. M., & Edmondson, A. C. (2006). Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 941–966.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science, 5(1), 14–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Paloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  59. Pelled, L. H., Eisenhardt, K. M., & Xin, K. R. (1999). Exploring the black Box: An analysis of work group diversity, conflict, and performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(1), 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ridgeway, C. L., & Correll, S. J. (2006). Consensus and the creation of status beliefs. Social Forces, 85(1), 431–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rienties, B., Tempelaar, D., Van den Bossche, P., Gijselaers, W., & Segers, M. (2009). The role of academic motivation in computer supported collaborative learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(6), 1195–1206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Robey, D., Khoo, H., & Powers, C. (2000). Situated learning in cross-functional virtual teams. Technical Communication, 47(1), 51–66.Google Scholar
  63. Roblyer, M. D., & Wiencke, W. R. (2003). Design and Use of a rubric to assess and encourage interactive qualities in distance courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2), 77–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Romme, A. G. L. (1996). A note on the hierarchy-team debate. Strategic Management Journal, 17(5), 411–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rosenthal, R. (1991). Meta-analytic procedures for social research. Newbury Park: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2000). Methodological issues in the content analysis of computer conference transcripts. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 11, 8–22.Google Scholar
  67. Salas, E., & Kozlowski, S. W. J. (2009). Learning, training, and development in organizations: Much progress and a peek over the horizon. In E. Salas & S. W. J. Kozlowski (Eds.), Learning, Training, and Development in Organizations (pp. 461–476). NY Routledge: New York.Google Scholar
  68. Sambrook, S. (2005). Factors influencing the context and process of work-related learning: Synthesizing findings from Two research projects. Human Resource Development International, 8(1), 101–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Schellens, T., & Valcke, M. (2005). Collaborative learning in asynchronous discussion groups: What about the impact on cognitive processing? Computers in Human Behavior, 21(6), 957–975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Schippers, M. C., den Hartog, D. N., Koopman, P. L., & Wienk, J. A. (2003). Diversity and team outcomes: The moderating effects of outcome interdependence and group longevity and the mediating effect of reflexivity. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24(6), 779–802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Schlager, M., Fusco, J., & Schank, P. (2002). Evolution of an online education community of practice. In K. A. Renninger & W. Shumar (Eds.), Building virtual communities: Learning and change in cyberspace (pp. 129–158). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Simons, T., Pelled, L. S., & Smith, K. A. (1999). Making Use of differences: Diversity, debate, and decision comprehensiveness in Top management teams. Academy of Management Journal, 42(6), 662–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Snyder, P., & Lawson, S. (1993). Evaluating results using corrected and uncorrected effect size estimates. The Journal of Experimental Education, 61(4), 334–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Soden, R., & Halliday, J. (2000). Rethinking vocational education: A case study in care. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 19(2), 172–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sproull, L., & Kiesler, S. (1986). Reducing social context cues: Electronic mail in organizational communication. Management Science, 32(11), 1492–1512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Stacey, E., Smith, P. J., & Barty, K. (2004). Adult learners in the workplace: online learning and communities of practice. Distance Education, 25(1), 107–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Strijbos, J.-W., Martens, R. L., Prins, F. J., & Jochems, W. M. G. (2006). Content analysis: What are they talking about? Computers & Education, 46(1), 29–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Sutton, R., Neale, M. A., & Owens, D. (2000). Technologies of Status Negotiation: Status Dynamics in Email Discussion Groups. Palo Alto: Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.Google Scholar
  79. Tachibanaki, T. (1988). Education, occupation, hierarchy and earnings. Economics of Education Review, 7(2), 221–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Thomas-Hunt, M. C., Ogden, T. Y., & Neale, M. A. (2003). Who’s really sharing? effects of social and expert status on knowledge exchange within groups. Management Science, 49(4), 464–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. van der Vegt, G. S., Bunderson, J. S., & Oosterhof, A. (2006). Expertness diversity and interpersonal helping in teams: Why those who need the most help end up getting the least. Academy of Management Journal, 49(5), 877–893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Veerman, A., & Veldhuis-Diermanse, E. (2001). Collaborative learning through computer-mediated communication in academic education. Paper presented at the In EURO CSCL 2001. Maastricht: McLuhan Institute. University Maastricht.Google Scholar
  83. Vrasidas, C., & Zembylas, M. (2003). The nature of technology-mediated interaction in globalised distance education. International Journal of Training and Development, 7(4), 271–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Webber, S. S., & Donahue, L. M. (2001). Impact of highly and less job-related diversity on work group cohesion and performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Management, 27(2), 141–162. doi: 10.1177/014920630102700202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Weisband, S. P., Schneider, S. K., & Connolly, T. (1995). Computer mediated communication and social information: Status salience and status differences. Academy of Management Journal, 38(4), 1124–1151. doi: 10.2307/256623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Wolfe, J. L. (1999). Why do women feel lgnored? gender differences in computer-mediated classroom interactions. Computers and Composition, 16(1), 153–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Yamnill, S., & McLean, G. N. (2001). Theories supporting transfer of training. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 12(2), 195–208. doi: 10.1002/hrdq.7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). Genres of organizational communication: A structurational approach to studying communication and media. Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 299–326.Google Scholar
  90. Zack, M. H., & McKenney, J. L. (1995). Social context and interaction in ongoing computer-supported management groups. Organization Science, 6(4), 394–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Zembylas, M., & Vrasidas, C. (2007). Listening for silence in text-based, online encounters. Distance Education, 28(1), 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Zhang, Y., Fang, Y., Wei, K.-K., & Chen, H. (2010). Exploring the role of psychological safety in promoting the intention to continue sharing knowledge in virtual communities. International Journal of Information Management, 30(5), 425–436. doi: 10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2010.02.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society of the Learning Sciences, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Learning Lab | Educational Media & Knowledge ManagementUniversity Duisburg-EssenDuisburgGermany
  2. 2.School of Business and Economics, Department of Educational Research and DevelopmentUniversity MaastrichtMaastrichtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations