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  • Research Articles
  • Open Access

Virtual dialogues and exchanges. The social and cognitive dimensions of interactions among students

International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education201310:10020285

  • Received: 15 May 2012
  • Accepted: 15 February 2013
  • Published:


This article focuses on the topic of interactions among peers in virtual environments. The analytical approach considers both the cognitive dimension and the social dimension (addressed more recently in the literature) of interactions.

The study was conducted on 28 groups of students (15 formed by undergraduates and 13 by graduates) who interacted with each other in electronic forums to perform an academic task within the framework of the subjects that they were taking.

From the analysis of the dialogues among the students in the 28 group forums, it was possible to construct 7 categories in order to classify the interventions by their main purpose or goal, namely: 1) social and/or off-topic interventions; 2) organisation to perform the task; 3) progress in drafting the answer; 4) requests for help; 5) acceptance of the collectively produced answer; 6) answers to requests for help; and 7) sharing the instruction and/or its interpretation.

The distribution of the different types of intervention in each group was similar and homogenous; there were no differences between undergraduate and graduate students. In all cases, a majority of social interventions was found, followed by organisation interventions and, to a lesser extent, progress in drafting the answer. The remaining interventions were irregular and infrequent.

A higher intervention-per-student average was also found in the graduate student groups. In contrast, no differences in the intervention-per-student average were found when taking group size into account.

The final considerations stress the need to know more about communication in virtual environments in order to contribute to the design of innovative proposals that broaden the opportunities for learning in such environments.


  • dialogue
  • virtual learning environments
  • social dimension
  • cognitive dimension