Tempting the lurkers out of the shadows in online learning

How to get the online lurkers out of the shadows is one of the most challenging issues for the online tutor. Participation is the oxygen of the digital teacher and any hiatus online can interrupt the flow of learning that is the purpose of the design. Frequently, tutors complain that they can’t get a critical mass of learners to engage online, whether orally on in the chat medium in weblectures. Learners bemoan the fact that they are treated like Pavlov’s dogs and are expected to respond even when this may be unnecessary or even unwanted.

Yet engagement is a term contested by tutors and learners. Tutors tend to use the terms engagement and interaction interchangeably. Learners are often not asked how they define these terms. In a recent piece of research on engagement students defined engagement in various ways, seldom referring to the typical defininition used by tutors. Learners saw engagement as listening, thinking about the subject, taking notes, discussing with peers and other behaviours linked to paying attention to the subject. Only occasionally did they define ‘interacting with the tutor’ or ‘responding to questions’ as engagement.

Perhaps it’s got something to do with learning styles of students today. Digital learners expect to engage in many activities simultaneously. Accordingly they may appear not to be engaged fully but actually they are fulfilling their interpretation of the standard. The tutors may disagree but may be misinterpreting the behaviours begin presented. Many tutors just aren’t reading it right! Students are learning, just not in the style their tutor expects.

What we need perhaps is a better means of communication between tutor and student. Tutors should require engagement not on their own terms but on those preferred by the learner. Learners need to signal with greater ‘volume’ that they do actually understand or not as the case may be. Tutors, instead of asking for strings of text inserted in chat as a signal of involvement, could instead require a tick mark, applause or different shorthand measures for signalling presence. Learners should be more sympathetic to tutors’ needs and should  be watchful to respond appropriately to the lesson’s needs. They can do this by stepping out of the shadows. Even if it’s just for an instant

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About Paul Donovan

Paul Donovan is Principal Investigator at the School of Business, Maynooth University. He was previously Registrar and Head of Management Development at Irish Management Institute (IMI) specialising in Management Development. Before joining IMI he worked as a general operations manager with the Bord na Mona, the Irish Peat Development Authority. He was also Training and Development Manager of the Bord na Mona group. Paul has delivered executive development programmes in over 15 countries. He has written several peer reviewed articles, over 10 books in training and general management. He has contributed a column to HRD magazine for over 14 years. His research interest is the transfer of training. Paul holds a doctorate from Leicester University.