Students’ Participation in Social Learning

Two months ago, I had a post on Learning Social or Solo, and some of the comments urged me to elaborate more on this topic, in particular, my statement that students are not eager to participate in online discussions. This is based on my observations which led me to do a study, and what I’ve heard from other learning professionals.

In that post, I shared providing the reasons of the effectiveness of social learning with students can be helpful in motivating them to participate. This works for the majority of students who are keen to learn; however, it might not work for some others. The students’ low participation in social learning lies on both students and instructors. Here are some of the issues which lead to learners’ low participation in online discussions:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of moderation skills
  • Vague topic questions
  • Obscure expectations
  • No weaving by the instructor

To address the issues above, from my own research as well as those done by others, I’ve collated what could help increase students’ participation in online discussions illustrated in the diagram below:




What to include in the first post

As shown above, your first post should include clear instructions on what students are supposed to do. Further, the expectations should be transparent to them. For instance, how many posts are they supposed to have, how many comments, number of words, and etc. In addition, the rules of participation need to be clearly articulated. For instance, respecting each other’s opinions, avoiding flaming, and so on, which I presume you are familiar with. If you plan to grade your discussion forums, it’s best to share the rubric with your students so that they know what they should consider when participating in discussions.

Discussion topics or questions

Students will be more motivated to participate in online discussions if the topics/questions are relevant to the content covered and if they are based on their needs. In personalized learning, instructors adapt their teaching to meet their students’ needs. This shouldn’t necessarily involve the content teaching, but can be applied to discussion forums too. Engaging students in online discussions which address their learning issues will help boost their motivation to actively participate in the discussions.

Moreover, questions need to be well structured. They don’t need to sound academic; in contrast, they can be conversational but simple and clear. Also having them tailored to real life scenarios can be motivating to them to participate actively.

Discussion Forum Moderation

While the discussion is going on, it is important that you interject where necessary to show your social presence to your learners. If they feel someone is monitoring them, they can get more motivated to participate. You can also increase their participation by giving feedback to those who have responded.

In the study I conducted, the instructor would share the best posts in class and reward them for their good posts. This would not only motivate the students who participated, but also encourage those who did not.

Lastly, summarizing the points discussed at the end of the thread can help learners see the value of online discussions and find out how they can enhance their learning on this platform.

If you use other methods that can encourage learners’ participation in online discussions, do share with me please.


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