Schmooze or lose


I must say that after 10 weeks I feel somewhat attached to my PBL-group. And trust me, I didn’t think that was going to happen after that first chaotic week. As I reflect back on the course I started to think of how that social attachment process happens.

A couple of years ago I did a research project about Stockholm’s health care system. More specifically why so few patients used the e-services for healthcare, such as health care guidance and applying for descriptions online.

The leaders in the city thought the problem was that people didn’t know about this kind of services. And to solve the problem they wanted to inform all of Stockholm population about the e-services. So they wanted to do a classic push-marketing (sadly they are still doing it…)

Anyway, the worst thing is that I actually agreed with them, well, until I meat the customers, the patients. I interviewed a lot patients and it actually took me a couple of interviews before I meat someone that actively used the health e-services provided.

This first interview with a patient that used the e-services gave me an insight. The patient I interviewed was a woman in her mid 40 with two kids that were always ill in someway. She used almost all the e-service tools that her health care center provided; mailing, calling, descriptions… you name it. So how came she used the e-services when so few others didn’t?

First of all she didn’t have much knowledge about technology so it wasn’t that. She told me she had only been using the e-services for about a year since she recently had been moving and got appointed to a new health care center. Ignorant as I was, I asked why she didn’t use them before, because it´s basically the same e-service tools at every health care center.

She answered me:

“But I didn’t know the doctor at the other place!”

Of course, she had only started to use the e-services after she had built up a trust to the doctor. The doctor knew her problems. The problem had never been about the e-tools or pushing information it was about the trust with she used the system with.

I think it’s the same with e-learning. In this course it took I while before we had built up a relationship within the group. This is also well documented in the literature of creating online communities. In their influential article Roberts and McInneney (2004) recommend a forming stage or a warm up period in any course to build that social community for online learning.

Since my background is in research psychology I couldn’t help to think of a classical study on negotiation. Nadler (2004) showed that students who used some social lubrication before negotiation had a significant higher ratio of reaching an agreement. This social lubrication and relation building is essential for any kind of exchanges, especially such as learning.

Maybe the best example of creating that initial social lubrication and commitment to a course can be found here at KTH. Every autumn something weird is happening at the school. Students dress up in weird cloths and play crazy drinking games. It´s the annual kick of at KTH.

My final reflection is that it here online leaning must start, in building the underlying social community. After all the need to belong is fundamental for humans (Baumeister & Leary). If e-learning wants to grow and become bigger then campus education it has to learn how to build social relationships.

E-learning – Schmooze or lose!



Some other articles on commitment and relationship building

Aragon, S. R. (2003). Creating social presence in online environments. New directions for adult and continuing education2003(100), 57-68.

Cialdini, R. B., Cacioppo, J. T., Bassett, R., & Miller, J. A. (1978). Low-ball procedure for producing compliance: commitment then cost. Journal of personality and Social Psychology36(5), 463.

Nadler, J. (2004). Rapport in legal negotiation: How small talk can facilitate e-mail dealmaking. Harvard Negotiation Law Journal, 9, 225–253

Morris, M., Nadler, J., Kurtzberg, T. R., & Thompson, L. (2002). Schmooze or lose: Social friction and lubrication in e-mail negotiations. Group Dynamics Theory, Research, and Practice, 6(1), 89–100

McInnerney, J. M., & Roberts, T. S. (2004). Online learning: Social interaction and the creation of a sense of community. Educational Technology & Society,7(3), 73-81.

Schoebi, D., Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (2012). Stability and change in the first 10 years of marriage: does commitment confer benefits beyond the effects of satisfaction?. Journal of personality and social psychology102(4), 729.


5 thoughts on “Schmooze or lose

  1. Hi, interesting to read about your patients and their e-activity and the way and why she used it, interesting, should be nice to do some more interviews about this, and I also agree with you that the social interaction and communities is of great importance


  2. Thank you for this really interesting post; it is great the way you can make the connections across such disparate areas. It does definitely demonstrate that at the heart of it we are all social creatures who just want to fit in. :).


  3. I work a lot with teams and team building. The one’s that break is where the social cohesion is flimsy. There is mistrust and suspicion which is never fixed and becomes a recipe for disaster. Learning and sharing within that team never occurs and is replaced by blame, scapegoat-ing and excuses. Hence your take on social learning interests me much.


  4. I agree with you Marcus that it’s important to build a relationship before you can start learning and that this goes for both e-learning and others kinds of learning. In this course I think it’s been important to have the PBL group as a social context but I’m thinking of other ways to build relationships online and how this can be supported? From this course I’ve learned a lot about the importance of structure but still I think it’s hard to create relationships through structure alone! What kind of support and what factors do you think can contribute to build a functional social community online?


  5. Thank you for an interesting post and articles! I agree with you that we think digital tools will change the world, but people are still basing their decisions on the same principles as ever before. Trust is something you can never force or demand. And we need trust online as well as offline.



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