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Improving Students’ Educational Experience by Harnessing Digital Technology: elgg in the ODL Environment

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Given the rising popularity of both open and distance learning (ODL) and social networking tools, it seems logical to merge and harness these two popular technologies with the goal of improving student educational experience. The integration seems to hold tremendous promise for the open and distance learning mode. To reduce the gap in the literature, this study explores the educational benefits of social media tools on distance learners’ perspectives and experiences in an online course taught using elgg (open source social media tool) platforms. To achieve this, the study relied on collecting qualitative and quantitative data from students who were required to use elgg, in addition to LMS, for one semester as part of their coursework. The findings indicated that students enjoyed the social learning experience afforded by the elgg better when compared to LMS to support one another in their distance learning experiences. It was also noted that students, with little experience in social networking and the sharing features on elgg, in most cases, exhibited high involvement in course-related work and graded exercises. Additionally, it was observed that students shared information limited only at the level required by the instruction mode. The study concludes that most students perceived their learning experience was enhanced by their interaction with each other and with the instructors in the elgg. The article ends with a discussion of results and highlighting the areas for future research on the topic.

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