Silent learners – a guide


One result of this project is a handy guidebook for teachers and students, Silent learners – a guide, with lots of practical advice on how to include and empower the silent learners in a class, especially in online courses. The guide also describes our own journey from seeing these learners as a problem to seeing the issue as one of inclusion and accessibility and that we need to take all learners into consideration when designing courses, not just the vocal and active ones.

We hope you find it useful!

Download the guide in pdf format.

“Learning requires some sort of work upstairs on the top floor”

By Torhild Slåtto

Anna Bager-Elsborg, researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark, says that to listen to a person talking does not generate learning outcome. She has studied campus students’ attitude and found that there is an attitude (a sort of culture) of Danish campus students to be passive listeners to lectures. They are afraid of what others will think about them, and some lecturers also want to speak uninterrupted. Continue reading

Webinar: The power of silent learners in a group

Silent learners 15 March 2017

Watch the recorded webinar

On behalf of the Silent Learners project and our partners EDEN, NVL and ITHU, we (Alastair, Francisca and Jan Willem) would like to say a big thank you to everyone who contributed so honestly and enthusiastically to our webinar 15 March.

We started the process with a tweetchat on the subject 8 March and you can read the discussion on Storify. As preparation for the webinar we asked participants to watch the TedX video by Susan Cain, The power of introverts. The webinar itself attracted 141 registrations, 80 of whom attended the live session. Our intention was to focus on discussion and interaction and the chat window was active from the start with hundreds of comments and ideas by the end. The success of the webinar was very much due to Jan Willem’s involvement bringing his own experience as a silent learner to the forefront and many participants could identify with his story.

Here are some selected comments from the discussion. If you want to see all the comments either watch the recorded webinar or go to Francisca Frenks’ website: 

You can also read reflections on the session in a blog post by Jenny Mackness.

Read more reflections on the webinar (in Swedish) by Charlotte Christoffersen.
Continue reading

Tweetchat on silent learners, 8 March


CC0 Public domain on Pexels

Read the whole tweetchat session from 8 March on Storify.

Some learners are more active than others. Some enjoy group work but others avoid it if at all possible. Some prefer to listen, observe, reflect and learn without needing to actively participate.

Active participation is expected and rewarded today but do active participants learn more than silent learners? Should we try to encourage everyone to be active or can we accept diversity and find ways of including the silent learners in the course?

Join us in a tweetchat on this theme at 20.00 CET on Wednesday 8 March at 20:00 CET. We will be running this event in cooperation with EDEN (European Distance and E-learning Network and therefore the hashtag will be #EDENChat. Make sure you tag all tweets in the discussion with #EDENChat!

Watch how to take part in a tweetchat.

This #EDENChat is followed by a webinar on 15 March at 15.00 CET:  The power of silent learners in a group

#EDENChat is a scheduled online discussion event on Twitter where anyone can join in and contribute to the discussions on current issues in distance, open and e-learning. In the most recent #EDENChat we discussed innovation in teaching. Read all the archived discussions here.

Webinar: The power of silent learners in a group

Have the courage to speak softly, to be yourself a silent learner. Diversity matters.

When: 15 March 2017, 15.00 – 16.00 CET
Where: Online via Adobe Connect (link to the meeting room will be sent to all registered participants 1-2 days before the webinar)

Register here!

  • How do we recognize silent learners?
  • What are the needs of silent learners
  • How can we empower silent learners in a group context?

Continue reading

Is silence a barrier to learning?

lurking1By Carola Eklund

During the last 15 years of my career I have taken part in a lot of online courses and webinars. I have always had the intention to learn something from the experience, though not always exactly what the course or webinar organisers intended me to learn. Sometimes I have decided that I want to improve my language fluency, understand the course design or something else that was outside the true scope of the activity.

Most of the time I’m not a person who wants to take a major role in a group and I’m not comfortable speaking a foreign language. These factors together with my sometimes peripheral objectives, mentioned above, can sometimes mean that I am perceived as a passive and silent learner. Continue reading

Small pieces of interactivity …


When I was ten years old I sometimes ran away from the other children playing outside. I went to a calm place, found a book and enjoyed reading. I the background I could hear my sisters and friends’ noisy games. Maybe I was a “silent player” or a silent reader or may be a typical introvert. Well, sometimes I also enjoyed to be in the centre of the game, participating a hundred per cent.

Is this an example of how we might act and react differently? The situation, the mood and feelings drive us in different directions and we behave differently. I think it is also the same when it comes to learning.  Some days we are very active, energetic and participative in a constructive manner. Another day we might be silent, half listening and not participating. Either drowned in our own thinking or may be tired and wanting to relax. A third day we might be more in opposition to the presenter and other participants, active enough, but may be not so constructive. Continue reading

Each silent learner has an individual story to tell


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By Taru Kekkonen

In the project, we had this brilliant idea to interview some of our silent online learners to learn more about them and their ways of learning. Our humble aim was in this way to learn to support their learning better. We were curious to hear how they learn best, how they want or don’t want to participate, what encourages them to and what discourages them from taking active part in online learning sessions. A nice idea, yes, but the problem is that the silent learners are usually not very eager to give interviews… Anyhow, we contacted some online students that we identified as silent learners i.e. learners who pass courses and make progress in their studies but seem to be passive when it comes to taking active part in real time online events or online discussions. And we did get to talk to a few students. Even if the interviews were not so numerous, they showed us clearly that we are not talking about one category in which we could place all these silent students  but about individuals who all have a different story to tell and individual reasons why to remain silent online. Continue reading

Passivity in webinars

For the last ten years the Nordic DISTANS network (the group who form this project) has hosted many webinars and we have gained considerable experience in that time. We have seen some general tendencies among webinar participants where some of them actively participate in debates (usually via chats), some only make the occasional comment, while others rarely or never write or say anything.

Most participants participate when asked to write their names, where they come from, answer a simple question about the weather or suchlike; so-called icebreakers. However when it comes to more active participation in the actual session we see a number of possible reasons for non-activity:

  • They do not follow the session so closely, often doing other things at the same time (multitasking).
  • They keep a close eye on the session but do not feel that they know enough to get involved in the discussion.
  • They follow the session but because of introverted personality traits they just listen and reflect and possibly follow up later
  • They do not feel confident because the presentations are not in their mother tongue

How can we encourage higher engagement levels or is that an unrealistic objective given the limited time available and the very diverse nature of the participants? In a course we have more time to create a sense of community and mutual trust but a maximum one hour webinar offers no such opportunities.