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Guest Blog: "Social Exchange Theory"

May 19, 2016 7:12 PM | Anonymous

This piece was written by Trey Mireles, newsletter editor and a primary consultant in the area of faculty development for the Council for Accelerated Programs (CAP).

A Story: 

Recently I was grocery shopping with my family and a smiling young woman approached me. She was excited and spoke so quickly I didn't catch what she was saying at first. My wife gave me a funny look, one I've seen before, a knowing look that helped me understand what was happening. The young woman was a student from an online course I had previously taught and as she relaxed I was able to hear more of her story. 

During the semester she had reached out to me. She was concerned she couldn't be successful in the course. Why? Because life had gotten in the way. At that time she was balancing the costs and the benefits of continuing the course and by reaching out to me she was considering another component of this analysis... she was engaged in what social psychologist refer to as the Social Exchange Theory where she subconsciously was weighing the costs and benefits of continuing not only the course, but her relationship with me as her instructor.  

The Social Exchange Theory: 

The Social Exchange Theory is an often subconscious (and sometimes conscious) analysis of the costs and benefits in a relationship. If the benefits outweigh the costs we maintain the relationship. Many factors go into these personal and professional relationships and each of us places different value on each factor.  

Maximizing Benefits:

While each of us places different value on each unique factor in our relationship, there are a few factors that consistently come up in education: 

Benefit 1 - Caring

While we had never met in person the student recognized the empathy I was feeling. Students will do everything they can to succeed if they perceive their instructor cares about their success. 

Benefit 2 - Passion

Passion is contagious. Be passionate about your content, your teaching and your students and that passion will be picked up by your students.  

Benefit 3 - Structure and Organization

The most significant cost in a teacher/student relationship is frustration. Students should become frustrated however they should become frustrated by the content, not a lack of structure and organization in the course. Organization and structure allows the teacher to focus their frustration on content and providing resources to help them succeed you increase learning - research shows a little stress improves learning. 

Benefit 4 - Flexibility

Be structured to be flexible. Being structured allows the instructor to be flexible as well. Using backwards design I can create courses where I focus on what students need to know. By doing so, I was able to be flexible with the students whose lives get in the way. I can ensure they are learning even if it doesn't happen within the traditional patterns and timelines I have set up.

Beyond Teaching: 

Maximizing benefits such as caring, passion, structure/organization and flexibility are integral to student success. The same principles of the Social Exchange Theory and these four benefits in particular can be applied to other aspects of education as well.

Administration and Management: 

Think of the best supervisor you have ever worked for. Now think of the worst supervisor. What was different? It's likely that the benefits greatly outweighed the costs with the best supervisor and the opposite was true for the worst. If you are in a management position focus on maximizing the benefits in your relationships with employees through caring, passion, structure and flexibility. 

Advising and Student Support: 

Whether it's an 18 year old traditional student, a returning adult interested in the flexibility of hybrid learning or a student whose several states away in an online program all students need to be feel supported. By investing in advising and student support models that maximize the benefits in the relationship between the student and the college you will increase persistence and retention. 

Faculty Development: 

In faculty development, the teachers become the students. Model for them how caring, passion, organization and flexibility can change the relationship and the dynamics in the classroom.

Trey Mireles is the interim Director of Psychology and Faculty Development at Bay Path University and a 2014 recipient of the Council on Accelerated Programming (CAP) Excellence in Teaching Award for his work as a Psychology Instructor in online, on-ground and accelerated formats. With his degrees in Psychology, Trey has an array of experience working in special education, psychotherapy and college teaching. This mix of education and experience allows Trey to apply his understanding of social sciences and neuropsychology to course design, instruction and facilitation of trainings and workshops with other educators. Connect with Trey via email ( or Twitter (@MirelesTrey).

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