“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.

In pedagogical theory today one talks about “co-responsibility for teaching.” This means that a necessary framework for learning something is that both teachers and students take responsibility for meaningful communication (see an article in Danish about Anna’s work, Hvis du klapper i, lærer du for lidt). This means active students. It has also been proved at several schools and universities that active students tend to get better results than quiet (passive) ones.

This was the background when the NVL network Distans embarked on the project “Is lurking Working”. We had noticed in many webinars that some participants were very active, some were somewhat active and many did not participate at all. They just kept quiet, but obviously they took interest in participating because they registered for our next webinars.

Based on this experience, we wanted to find ways and methods to activate and engage participants in webinars. We had experienced in another Nordplus project that interactivity in webinars generates more engagement, and we believed that interactivity and a variety of collaborative activities would prepare the ground for active participation, and hence facilitate the learning process.

Through workshops and discussions, we found that most participants, ourselves included, behave differently from one situation to another. In a Monday 10 o’clock meeting, we might be very active while in a Monday 2 o’clock webinar we might be just listening and not participating at all. The reason could be low interest, doing some multitasking or just wanting to relax and reflect on what others are talking about.

Besides, we have different personalities. Some are extrovert and want to be social and participate whenever wherever. Others prefer to work on their own, listening and reflecting more than discussing spontaneously. They like to think before talking, and spontaneous chat discussions are not their favorite format.

Definitions of extroverts and introverts, according to a Norwegian encyclopedia, Store norske leksikon:

“Extroverts are social, talkative, contact seekers, not so afraid to stumble out, and they like news and variety.”

“An introvert is a person who rarely contacts others, is quiet in social contexts, focusing on her inner experiences and preferring lonely activities called introvert.”

Back to the Danish researcher, Anna Bager-Elsborg. She says that “What we know about learning is that it requires some sort of work upstairs on the top floor. Listening to one who speaks does not guarantee a learning outcome.”

What we learned is that social activity is not a must for learning. Further we learned that active participation depends on the situation. Through several webinars on the subject, we also learned some efficient methods on how to engage learners, whether they are silent or noisy.

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