study buddy

I was delighted to get an alert from Google Scholar that some open publication had cited my work. I didn’t really plan on then spending an hour by reading through a  thesis, writing the author a quick note and now this blog post. But learning opportunity strikes!

The publication was the MEd. thesis by Colin Madland, a grad student in our online  MEd program specializing in online education and in this case the sample was drawn from MEd students. So lots of relevancy for me.  Finally, the examination of a different model of student-student interaction always interests me.

I recommend this thesis as a fine example of clear writing, nice tie to practical and theoretical work, good  clear questions (but do we really need formal hypothesis in Mixed method research?). The sample size was relatively small (<50) using an online, mostly author created, questionnaire. Thus the quest for significant differences wasn’t achieved for some questions (like the deep and surface learning measurement) but some powerful numbers and quotes about percie3ved value of the intervention.

The study context was the very common, paced, 100% online, graduate course with 20-30 students, using an LMS and occasional synchronous webconf. The innovative feature of the course was the focus on problem based learning activity wherein students were required to develop a detailed learning design for a known training or educational problem. For 5% “bonus mark” students could agreed to participate in a  form of study-buddy pre-submission assessment and feedback on the final product(s) from the buddy and to create a 1-2 page reflection on the experience.

The results were generally positive about the study-buddy intervention, a claim Madland supported with descriptive survey means from Likert scale questions of value and use. Of course not everyone liked working with study buddies, so Madland tried on a learning style type designation of learners as bunnies (quick to get work done and handed in) and bears (plodding along to last second turn in.)  As expected, bear/bunnies relationships had more problems, but the results were inconclusive, some bunnies got along with bears. I’m not big on learning style labelling, but my wife is convinced that Meyers Briggs, Enneagram and other ways to ‘know thyself” are invaluable, so what do I know…

The work concludes with has some very nice and practical recommendations for online teaching and course design. The study finds that study-buddy interventions is relatively cost effective, needs marks for incentives and generally “works”. However, it should NOT be made compulsory as some expect or demand more independence in online learning. Perhaps what is most important for  administrators and teachers is that study buddies were reported to reduce marking/proof reading that consumes too much of the teacher’s time. This is an example of  substituting student-student interaction for student-teacher interaction. Study-buddies seems to have both pedagogical and economic advantages. The research on peer teaching as long shown evidence of learning value, but most of this work has been done face-to-face. I would be interested in examining the tools used by the pairs (Google docs? social networks? LMS???) to support this type of 2 person work group.

For researchers, the data confirms the results of the meta analysis comparing learning effectiveness after various dimensions of increased student-teacher, student-content and student-student interactions (Bernard et al. 2014). Further it can be used to support my  “Interaction Equivalency Theorum“.  This form of structured student-student interaction substitutes for student-teacher interaction with roughly “equivalent” results.  A group (even one with only 2 members) needs comfort and competence to function effectively in a performing a challenging task at a distance. Thus, the study-buddy experience is also a great learning activity for an increasingly distributed work force. Unlike student-teacher interaction, student-student interaction is scalable – though does require good tools and network efficacy to be used effectively by  distributed students. Thus, one could also imagine these being added as optional learning activity for MOOCs.

So, well done Colin! I look forward to reading an article summarizing this work and for a blossoming of study-buddies online.



Bernard, R., Abrami, P., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Tamim, R., Surkes, M., & Bethel, E. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1243-1289.

Madland, C. (2014). Structured Student Interactions in Online Distance Learning: Exploring the Study Buddy Activity. (MEd.), Athabasca University, Athabasca Ab. Retrieved from