Institute of Sociology

Research in brief

Weber, Hannes, Schwenzer, Marc & Hillmert, Steffen (2020):
Homophily in the formation and development of learning networks among university students. Network Science, 2020. DOI: 10.1017/nws.2020.10


Students’ personal learning networks can be a valuable resource of success in higher education: they offer opportunities for academic and personal support and provide sources of information related to exams or homework. While friendship networks among students have been extensively studied, much less is known about the formation and evolution of learning ties. We study the determinants of learning networks using a specific panel study among university students in their first and second year of study. All students were enrolled in the same degree course and provided information on acquaintances and learning partners from a complete list of their fellow students. A long-standing question in social network analysis has been whether the tendency of individuals with similar characteristics to form ties is a result of preferences (“choice homophily”) or rather selective opportunities (“induced homophily”). We expect a latent preference for homophilic learning partnerships with regard to attributes such as gender, ability, and social origin. We estimate recently developed temporal exponential random graph models (TERGM) to control for previous network structure and study changes in learning ties among students. The results show that especially for males, same-gender partnerships are preferred over heterogeneous ties, while chances for tie formation decrease with the difference in academic ability among students. Social origin is a significant factor in the cross-sectional exploration but does appear to be less important in the formation of new (strong) partnerships during the course of studies.