Date of Conferral







Heather Pederson


Research has shown that individual members of traditional support groups gain a sense of identity and community and feelings of respect and support. Online support groups provide individuals avenues to find medical information and thus learn more about a given condition or illness. Little has been studied about the learning and instruction that occurs in online social support groups, especially in groups about chronic pain. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the perceptions and experiences of members who participated in one open social support group. Siemen's constructivism theory served as the basis for comprehending the learning and instruction that took place in this group, and the research questions focused on the support group members' perceptions of this learning and instruction. Data were collected from 10 individuals who participated in a Facebook Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy support group. Yin's case study framework provided additional support data analysis. Data were collected through individual, semistructured telephone interviews and observations of online discussions. A combination of open and axial coding was used to support content analysis. Themes identified were learning, knowledge, persuasion, and acceptance of underlying negativity. Online social support group participation involved shared experiences that facilitated learning and instruction; these findings could influence the structures of other support groups. Positive social change occurs when individuals are knowledgeable and well educated about social support groups because it is in these groups that trends, issues, and new information are learned. Informal learning occurs with the increased digital skills, especially within a person's virtual support networks