Research Areas

My Areas of Research

Caroline Haythornthwaite

Overview and a brief description of each of my major areas of research, with key references.


Work, Learning, and Social Interaction Online

My research explores the way interaction via computer media supports and affects work, learning, and social interaction. I examine how and what information is exchanged, knowledge is co-constructed, collaboration happens, and community forms in and in conjunction with online contexts. A social network perspective and social network analytic techniques underpin most of my research, focusing on the types of relations that tie actors in a network, and the roles that emerge from online interaction. I am particularly interested in

  • how relational and media multiplexity  ties people in a collaborative, communal or learning relationship
  • how organizing practices and media choices determine who talks to whom, establishing the latent tie structures on which relationships build
  • what motivates people to contribute to open, online projects

Recent work explores motivations for participation in online crowds and communities, the use of social media in teaching and learning, and social network patterns of interaction in support of learning. I am intent of reclaiming the term ‘e-learning’ to signify a transformative movement for learning in a networked world, entailing a transformation in who learns what, from whom, where, when, and under what circumstances.

My research falls under labels and perspectives of information science, internet research, social networks, social media and new media, networked learning and e-learning, social informatics and sociotechnical studies, and learning analytics.

My work has and continues to address:

  • Transformative effects of information and communication technologies on communication, network patterns of interaction, collective activity, knowledge co-construction, and access to people and information resources
  • Social informatics and the overlapping and co-evolutionary aspects of social and technical systems
  • Online social networks, including the formation, maintenance and relational structures associated with online interaction through crowds and communities
  • Online community, including community relations online, virtual community formation, and online/offline synergies for virtual and/or geographical communities
  • Distributed knowledge and knowledge construction across divides of geography, discipline, and understanding
  • Collaboration, including the relational bases of collaboration, and technology use in support of collaborative activity
  • Peer production, from online community to crowdsourcing
  • Learning networks — research on the combination of social networks, online networks and learning — including online learning, networked learning,  ubiquitous learning, and the transformative effects of online information actors and resources
  • Learning analytics, harnessing the data traces from learning to gain better insight into learning processes in formal and informal settings
  • Social media and learning in the digital age, including patterns of social media adoption and use by teachers, transformative effects on teaching and learning practice, and social network patterns in large online learning settings such as MOOCs.


Online Networks, Crowds and Communities

My research efforts continue around a general theme of understanding motivations, processes, structures and impacts of organizing online through computer media. In this work I have explored how information is exchanged between members of online, computer mediated communities. In this, ‘community’ is always a hypothesis to be tested, and not all collectives need to be communities to accomplish their goals. I have applied the perspectives and techniques social network analysis to the online communities of academic researchers, online learners, interdisciplinary research teams, and twitter learning communities. I have explored this with a focus on both instrumental information exchange and more social and community building aspects of social support. I have applied this to consideration of larger structures of participation, such as the scholarly crowd-based support of peer review and academic standards, and motivations to participate in open source environments. Themes and theories have emerged from this work including ideas of media multiplexity, latent ties, lightweight and heavyweight models of online participation. Throughout, my work is informed by a social informatics/sociotechnical perspective, and the research focuses on the networked social processes that sustain groups, teams, crowds and communities as enacted through the combination of social and technical processes.

Here are two key references that use a social network to reconcile differences between crowds and community based participation.

  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2009). Crowds and communities: Light and heavyweight models of peer production. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society. []
  • Budhathoki, N. & Haythornthwaite, C. (2013). Motivation for open collaboration: Crowd and community models and the case of OpenStreetMap. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(5), 548 – 575. (This paper won the best social informatics paper award from ASIST SIG-SI.)

These papers present research and theory on media multiplexity,  latent ties, social networks and online community

  • Haythornthwaite, C. & Wellman, B. (1998). Work, friendship and media use for information exchange in a networked organization. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 49(12), 1101-1114.
  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2001). Exploring multiplexity: Social network structures in a computer-supported distance learning class. The Information Society, 17(3), 211-226.
  • Wellman, B. & Haythornthwaite, C. (Eds.) (2002). The Internet in Everyday Life. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2002). Strong, weak and latent ties and the impact of new media. The Information Society, 18(5), 385 – 401.
  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2005). Social networks and Internet connectivity effects. Information, Communication & Society, 8(2), 125-147.
  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2007). Social networks and online community. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, U. Reips & T. Postmes (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology (pp. 121-136). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2008). Learning relations and networks in web-based communities. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 4(2), 140-158.
    • This paper was selected as one of the top 10 papers in the first 10 years of the International Journal of Web Based Communities and made open access. Editorials (2014) about the top 10 can be found open access in IJWBC 10(1) and IJWBC 10(2). Letters to the editors by authors of these papers, including my own, can be found in IJWBC 10(2).



Distributed Knowledge, E-learning, Learning Analytics,
New Literacies, Social Media and Learning

Current SSHRC Insight grant 2013-18: Learning Analytics for the Social Media Age.
PI: Anatoliy Gruzd; Co-PI: Caroline Haythornthwaite; Collaborator: George Siemens.

Earlier work looked at theoretical and practical issues associated with online collaboration and the co-construction of knowledge in distributed teams. This, plus my examination of social networks of online learners, led to attention to e-learning, and later to learning analytics. I look at learning both as a fundamental information exchange process and as a social process associated with joining communities. Learning is also a fascinating area for study at present as we see transformation in how, where, when and with whom we learn because of the Internet and Internet-crowd contributed content.

Keywords that describe my work include:

  • Learning analytics, E-Learning, Networked learning, Learning communities, Participatory culture, Ubiquitous learning, Distributed knowledge, New media and learning, Social media and learning

Distributed Knowledge

This work was undertaken in connection with an NSF KDI grant. Researchers on the grant included faculty engaged in the social studies of science and technology, management, education, and information science. These areas of inquiry continue to underpin my work.

  • Kanfer, A., Haythornthwaite, C., Bowker, G.C., Bruce, B.C., Burbules, N., Porac, J., & Wade, J. (2000). Modeling distributed knowledge processes in next generation multidisciplinary alliances. Information Systems Frontiers, 2(3/4), 317-331
  • Haythornthwaite, C., Lunsford, K.J., Bowker, G.C., & Bruce, B. (2006). Challenges for research and practice in distributed, interdisciplinary, collaboration. In C. Hine (Ed.), New Infrastructures for Science Knowledge Production (pp. 143-166). Hershey, PA: Idea Group.
  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2006). Learning and knowledge exchanges in interdisciplinary collaborations. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(8), 1079-1092.
  • Haythornthwaite, C. (2006). Articulating divides in distributed knowledge practice. Information, Communication & Society, 9(6), 761-780.


Caroline Haythornthwaite & Richard Andrews (2011). E-Learning Theory and Practice, London: Sage.

  • One of my goals with this book is to promote an understanding of  ‘e-learning’ as a transformation in how, where and with whom we learn rather than just the use of learning management systems in formal learning settings.

Richard Andrews & Caroline Haythornthwaite (Eds.) (2007). SAGE Handbook of E-learning Research. London: Sage.
Caroline Haythornthwaite, Richard Andrews, Jude Fransman & Eric Meyers (Eds.) (2016). SAGE Handbook of E-learning Research, 2nd edition. London: Sage.

  • The first edition provided state-of-the-art, in-depth accounts of research areas in the rapidly expanding field of e-learning. The first of its kind, it provides reviews of over 20 areas in e-learning research by experts in the field, and provides a critical account of the best work to date. Articles in that issue remain current today.
  • The second edition has almost all new chapters and/or substantially updated chapters. It provides in-depth treatments of more new and emerging areas of e-learning research.

Learning Analytics

I am a founding and executive member of the Society for Learning Analytics. The society is leading the development of research addressing the use of data and technology to improve, enhance and reveal structures in practices of teaching and learning in the interest of learners, teachers, and administrators and toward the development of new theoretical and practical perspectives on learning for the 21st century. Learning analytics may be distinguished from other data intensive analyses by its focus on learning.

  • Learning Analytics and Knowledge conferences: LAK16, LAK15, LAK14, LAK13, LAK12, LAK11
  • LAK16 was held at Edinburgh University, April 25-29, 2016
    • LAK15 was held at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY, March 16-20, 2015 ()
  • Learning Analytics Summer Institute
    • LASI 2016 was held at the University of Michigan, June 26-29, 2016
    • LASI 2014 was held at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, June 30-July 2, 2014
    • LASI 2013 was held at Stanford University, July 1-5, 2013
  • Special issue on Learning Analytics, 2013
    • Haythornthwaite, C., De Laat, M. & Dawson, S. (Eds.) (2013). Learning analytics. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(10), whole issue.

New Media, New Literacies and New Forms of Learning

  • This special issue emerged from a workshop on this topic where position papers from a range of prominent researchers addressed how we learn with and through digital media, how this challenges current notions of literacy, and how digital media can be leveraged to support educational initiatives. The workshop was held at the London Knowledge Lab, Dec. 14 2011. Papers available at: Papers from the workshop were extended and new papers added to create this special issue:
    • Haythornthwaite, C. & Meyers, E. (2012/2014). New literacies, new media, and new forms of learning. International Journal of Learning and Media, 4(3-4), whole issue. {although the issue is dated 2012, the issue was only published in 2014}

Social Media and Learning

Current work centers on an initiative on social media and learning, support in part by a SSHRC Insight grant, and with support from GRAND.

  • Learning Analytics for the Social Media Age. PI: Anatoliy Gruzd, Co-PI C. Haythornthwaite; Collaborator: George Siemens. For 5 years, $478,622.
  • Researchers on this initiative: Anatoliy Gruzd (Ryerson University, Toronto), Drew Paulin (Berkeley, CA), Rafa Absar (post-doc while at UBC), and Sarah Gilbert (UBC); atMarc Esteve del Valle (post-doc at Ryerson University).

Social Media and Health

A workshop and public forum on Harnessing the Social Web – Communities for Health and Wellness was held in Vancouver, Feb. 3-5, 2013, led by Kendall Ho, and supported by the Peter Wall Institute of Advance Study Workshop, University of British Columbia.  This paper and special issue came out of the workshop. Thanks to the #hcsmca community for the use of their twitter conversations as input to this paper, and their continuing willingness to work with us on examining Twitter and community.