Blogging vs Threaded Discussions in Online Courses

Proponents of social learning theory believe that learning is based upon an individual’s overall environment. What one observes and experiences has a profound impact on how one makes meaning of information. Learners process information based upon

their shared experiences with others, entering into a phase of learning that includes: attention; retention; reproduction; and ultimately the motivation to alter behavior.Blogging vs Threaded Discussions in Online Courses

In short, social learning purports one’s community and environment are vital to one’s learning.

But how does this apply within online courses? How can students learn from others within a virtual environment?

Instructors of online courses must create a learning environment that differentiates student discussion. But specifically, teachers must incorporate use of student blogging in an online course structure.

Clarke and Kinne (2012) conducted a study that followed two forms of asynchronous discussion amongst students–1.) through use of threaded discussions in a message board and 2.) by blog posts and responses. According to their findings, students felt more engaged and personally connected to other learners by engaging in discourse through blogging.

According to their research, students who blogged about coursework and posted responses to classmates, developed a strong sense of community amongst each other. Because the form of blog writing tends to be less “academic” and more personal, students linked their meaning of academic material to their own lives and experiences. This resulted in more candid and personal discourse amongst the class. While students maintained attention to the various academic topics of study, they did so with their own voice. Students “felt more listed to and valued in their posts than students using discussion boards” (p. 11). Ultimately, this led to the indirect formation of a community of practice, of which students connected their learning experiences to the shared experiences of others.

This was in sharp contrast to the experiences of students that engaged in discourse through threaded discussions via Blackboard learning management system. Students tended to collaborate with peers in a very “academic,” less personal tone.

Nystrand, Wu, Gamoran, Zeiser, and Long (2003) indicate that threaded discussion board conversations tend to mimics the delivery of traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms, in which the teacher is the gatekeeper of knowledge and students occasionally participate. Learning is less social, and therefore, less personal and motivating.

Clarke and Kinne’s research indicates that threaded discussions are missing the element of community amongst its participants, resulting in decreased perception of engagement and empowerment.

Rovai (2007) asserts the goal of online courses should be to create a learning environment that fully motivates and empowers learners to be active in their learning, exchange positive communication with others, and feel engaged/moved by the course. This is how learning becomes social and truly motivating.

For instructors of online courses, this doesn’t mean forever-abandon the use of threaded discussions. Not at all. They have their place. But, this research provides more justification of how instructors can create the conditions that result in the development of a community of practice. This community leads to social learning and student motivation.


Clarke, L, & Kinne, L. (2012). Asynchronous discussions as threaded discussions or blogs. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 29, 4-13.

Nystrand, M., Wu, L., Gamoran, A., Zeisler, S., & Long, D. (2003). Questions in time: Investigating the structure and dynamics of unfolding classroom discourse. Discourse Processes, 35, 135-196.

Rovai, A.P., Wighting, M.J., & Lucking, R. (2004). The classroom and school community inventory: Development, refinement, and validation of a self-report measure for educational research. Internet and Higher Education, 7, 263-280.


48 comments for “Blogging vs Threaded Discussions in Online Courses

  1. October 3, 2012 at 3:09 am

    It was nice to read this blog post, which seems to affirm what I experienced last summer.

    Because there weren’t enough students to teach my regular local college course, I was asked to supervise two education students in an independent study experience. Usually I teach the same children’s literature class using a hybrid method — partly face-to-face and partly online. We have always used threaded discussions, visible to only us, but this year I did not want the three of us to attempt a meaningful discussion. I asked and received some serious backup from members of my PLN when we discussed on a blog. Here is just one of the posts that some of my PLN friends and I used to welcome my students to an online public learning environment.
    It was a great experience!

    Thanks again,

    • larolyn
      July 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      Did you “grade” the blogs and if so how and based on what criteria.

  2. October 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    It’s not clear that Clark and Kinne looked at differences in facilitation techniques of the teachers in their study; I suspect they did not. Had they considered variations in teacher facilitation of the discussions, I think there would have been in even more to report. My experience tells me that the format, ie. blogging vs threaded, of the discussion has less to do with the quality and depth of the discussion than the nature and frequency of teacher/instructor facilitation. The setup, directions, communicated expectations are also critical to the qualtiy of a discussion.

    I don’t think we can say from what we have, so far, that “research says that blogs are better than threaded discussions.” They’re two different tools with different characteristics; either can lead to quality learning when used by a good teacher.

    • October 3, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      I agree with Dan that blogs and threaded discussions are two different tools. It’s like saying a Crescent wrench is better than channel-lock pliers. Both can be used in a similar way, but there are times when one is a better tool than another. That’s why I keep both in my garage. Other research shows that threaded discussions do promote community, as well. My suggestion: Let’s determine the attributes of each tool and fit the tools to the context at hand. Both tools, in the hands of a thoughtful online instructor, can provide benefits to the students we serve.

      • October 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm

        Yes, I was wondering about facilitation as well as the intent or purpose of the conversations.

  3. October 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I appreciate the comments Dan and Thomas.

    I think the point is very well taken–nobody should abandon the use of threaded discussions. They have a purpose, and for the structure of some online courses, is one of the few asynchronous tools that can be used for student collaboration/communication with peers.

    For me, the key takeaway from this study was the theme of “community” and “engagement.” According to the study’s outcomes, students who relied solely on threaded discussion were only about 30-40% personally connected to the coursework and their peers, whereas 70-80% felt more so through the use of blog communication.

    I also had some questions about the study’s design methods. This won’t be a study that becomes a landmark, well-grounded study at this time, but is a start. Could be a great catalyst for other online instructors to conduct their own action research.

  4. Judy Arzt
    October 7, 2012 at 5:16 am

    I need to read the original article about the study to learn more about how the research was conducted. The post indicates Blackboard was used for the threaded discussions. The technology used can influence results. Students tend to find Blackboard not “authentic” and a closed environment that they associate with academia, not with the way people outside of higher education communicate. We did not learn from the post what system was used for blogging. Although Blackboard does allow for some blogging, was it used for the blogging in this study? If not, what tool was used? What if Ning which allows for both blogging and forums (threaded discussions) was used? Does the tool itself affect the results? We also need to know about other variables that might have affected results. What were the external variables that the researchers could not control? Again, it does make sense to access the original study for some answers. However, we also need to remember that in a study like this one, the tool and other variables can explain outcomes. That is the, two interventions alone might not fully explain the results.

    • October 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      Judy, from a research design perspective…very fair arguments to raise about the study’s methods.

      At the practitioner-level, the awareness of student “engagement” and “community” is the key takeaway from this study.

      Online instructors need to be aware of the environments in which their students will collaborate with peers. Action research and trial-and-error would be best for instructors to determine which yields the greatest ROI.

  5. Tim
    October 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    I have been a consumer of five D2L online courses. This sixth course I am taking is the first I have created a blog for. I enjoy blogging and as this article points out I don’t feel as though I’m getting the bang for my buck with threaded discussions. I agree the the instructor still acts as the gate keeper and each one requires at least 2 posts to others posts per week. I feel that responding to others blogs would make me a much more engaged learner.

  6. October 6, 2013 at 7:39 am

    The concept of blogging and threaded discussions is excellent because it is looks as simple concepts but inner concepts are very interesting.Thanks for this.

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