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
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.