This Grounded Theory study explores how the use of social media influenced the dynamics of interaction in a free-choice religious education experience between a world religious leader and young adult learners. Results indicate that social media (a) enhanced proxy group interaction due to the increased visibility of leader-learner interactions to the entire group and the ability of learners to comment on, like, mention other learners, and share leader-learner interactions; (b) enabled active non-verbal interaction which allowed for social curation, peer validation, community reaction, and the non-verbal pushing of posts into the social media streams of those not participating in the event; (c) greatly enhanced dialogic interaction between learners and allowed for a safe hashtag-bound space for religious expression to occur online; and (d) enabled a theoretically infinite amount of learner-learner interactions on single comment nodes, referred to as multilogic interactions. Grounded Theory was also used to derive patterns from the data generated in this experience which were then abstracted and reconstituted into an explanatory and predictive theoretical framework referred to as Orbital Interaction Theory (OIT). OIT, as a design theory, predicts that three types or tiers of interaction will occur when three essential pedagogical design elements are used together—namely, a question and answer session with a highly respected and sought-after leader within a social media-bound context. Furthermore, I posit that three essential learner conditions are required for the success of OIT—namely, learner trust in the leader, a high degree of learner homogeneity, and high levels of civility. The preexistent nature of these learner conditions in religious education experiences makes them the most natural contexts for an OIT approach to be successful. It is precisely because of the challenge of achieving these three factors at comparable levels in non-religious free-choice learning contexts that makes the transferability of OIT into these contexts difficult. Finally, I posit that when the essential pedagogical design elements of OIT are combined with the essential learner conditions of OIT, the Optimum Conditions for Interaction (OCI) in OIT will be achieved with highly predictable results.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology



Date Submitted


Document Type





social media, interaction, free-choice learning, informal learning, religious education