Social network theory: A brief introduction

Color Knot
In the upcoming weeks, as I prepare for a pre-conference workshop and conference workshop at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 2016, I will be writing  posts related to how university instructors learn about teaching through personal networks ( sometimes referred to as “significant networks” or “social networks”). This work draws on Social Network Theory.

Today’s post is a brief introduction to Social Network Theory.

Social network theory: A brief introduction

A network consists of a set of relationships (Kadushin, 2004).  Networks are made up of the actors (referred to as “nodes”) and the relationships (or “ties”) between those actors (Pataraia, Falconer, Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Fincher, 2014) .

Social Network Theory is the study of how people, organizations or groups interact with others inside their network (Claywell, 2016). It describes the structure and properties of the interactional links between the individuals that comprise a social network (Pataraia, Margaryan, Falconer, Littlejohn & Falconer, 2013). This theory can be applied to small groups as well as those that are global (Kadushin, 2004) and can be used to describe various forms of interactions. Interactions may include the exchange of advice, knowledge, materials, and resources (Pataraia et al., 2013).

There are three types of social networks:

  1. Ego-centric networks. These are connected with a single node or individual. For example, all your followers on Twitter (you are the node) or everyone who does business at Store X (Store X is the node).
  2. Socio-centric networks. These are closed networks by default. For example, all the students in a classroom or employees within an organization.
  3. Open-system networks. These networks have ill-defined boundaries. Examples include: the ‘middle-class’ in Canada, the influencers of a particular decision, or the adopters of a particular approach.

(Claywell, 2016; Kadushin, 2004).

Social scientists are interested in the interactions between members of a network.  In the context of the SoTL research that Gary Poole, Roselynn Verwoord and I are conducting, we seek information about how academics use their networks to learn about university teaching.



Claywell, C. (2016). What is social network theory? Retrieved from

Kadushin, C. (2004). Introduction to social network theory. Chapter 2: Some basic network concepts and properties. Retrieved from

Pataraia, N., Falconer, I., Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A., & Fincher, S. (2014). ‘Who do you talk to about your teaching?’: Networking activities among university teachers. Frontline Learning Research, 2(2), 4-14.

Pataraia, N., Margaryan, A., Falconer, I., Littlejohn, A., & Falconer, J. (2013). Discovering academics’ key learning connections: An ego-centric network approach to analysing learning about teaching. Journal of Workplace Learning, 26(1), 56-72.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *