There is often a perception that students who participate the most in class discussions are learning more effectively than those who remain quiet. Teachers typically reward active participation, but only of a specific type: the vocal kind. Especially in online courses, students who are not adding their voice regularly to discussions might be perceived as less engaged. But what about less visible forms of engagement like reading and rereading?

Non-posting behaviors often aren’t valued as important indicators of learning because they aren’t easily tracked in online courses. To challenge this perception, Canadian researcher Lesley Wilton wanted to know what exactly these behaviors, specifically reading and rereading, looked like for remotely located students.

Wilton gathered 137 graduate student participants for her study, all of whom were attending one of eight 12-week online graduate courses at a large Canadian university. In a mixed-methods study, data was collected from public learning journals that students were required to update regularly and from weekly discussion threads facilitated by different class members. Additionally, 14 participants completed questionnaires and participated in semi-structured interviews to more deeply discuss their perceptions of reading, rereading, and their online learning experiences.

Wilton found that participants could be grouped into three types of students based on their habits: avid readers/prolific writers (31 students), avid readers/moderate writers (40 students), and moderate readers/moderate writers (66 students). Across these groups, students perceived reading and rereading to deepen understanding, clarify points, and function as a way to check for repetition or cite another participant in the discussion. Ultimately, results revealed that those who are less visible in online learning discussions are still actively learning through reading, rereading, and revisiting entries.

These results highlight the importance of recognizing different pathways to success; not every student is going to be the type to consistently raise their hand or prolifically contribute to discussion boards. Online instructors in particular should be aware that just because student activity might not be visible doesn’t mean learning isn’t happening.

Wilton, L. (2018). Quiet participation: Investigating non-posting activities in online learning. Online Learning, 22(4), 65-88.

Image: by Brad Flickinger via Flickr