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.

Workshop at EDEN 2016 Budapest

At the EDEN Online Conference in Budapest 2016 we presented this project at a workshop. Slides used during our workshop at EDEN 2016:

In this workshop, we discussed reasons for passive/silent participation in courses and seminars (both online and on-site) and illuminated how we have sought to generate methods for encouraging more active participation. We  presented the background and initial findings of our current project, Is Lurking working? (Nordplus 2015). We hoped that the findings of this workshop would provide valuable input for participants to take to their own situatins in their dealings with adult learners, giving them ideas which can help them organize learning events which suit people who like to learn in different ways. We also hoped  to gather some responces which could be usefulto the project’s continuing work. We believe that there are similarities between those who are silent learners on campus and online and that although the online environment may make it easier to remain silent the phenomenon is more about learner’s feeling of security and sense of belonging than a specific online issue.

Not lurking but learning

I’d like to return to one of my favourite topics of late – online participation or the lack of it. Just as it is quite normal to appreciate music without dancing or singing along, we need to accept the fact that many people can learn a lot without actively taking part in discussions and group work. In fact one important phase in learning is a period where you silently observe and listen to those with more experience and tune into the field you are studying. Continue reading

Sometimes I just want to learn on my own

This post was first published on project member Alastair Creelman’s blog (10 Apr 2015)

Maybe I’m weird but when I’m at a concert and the singer says “come on everyone clap your hands!” or “everyone get up and dance” I instinctively dig in my heels and refuse. I simply don’t like being told to enjoy myself or being forced to participate. If I want to I will but I don’t like being ordered to.

The same applies sometimes to learning. Of course learning is largely a social process where we test ideas, discuss, reformulate, copy, adapt and create but there are times when we simply want to be alone. A colleague of mine, who is a major MOOC enthusiast, confessed to being tired of contrived group activities and enjoyed being able to work through the material at her own pace and on her own terms. The effort of joining a group and dealing with often wildly diverse expectations and skills is sometimes greater than the payback and when you have many other commitments you need to be able to focus on course activities exactly when it suits you best. For people with good study skills and the ability to focus, participation can simply get in the way of learning.  Continue reading