Q&A Forums and learning online

Online learning often hinges around good student conversation to build rapport, but importantly, easy flowing conversation for students to be able to construct learning together. The sharing of thoughts, references and ideas for the group to talk and critique on allows students to all form a higher understanding of their content.

With online however, there’s always a concern to make sure learners are doing their own thinking before jumping on the bandwagon. The gut feeling is it’s easy to jump into a forum and borrow someone else’s work or just take it, thus plagiarising other students’ work or not engaging properly. So, Moodle has Q&A forums. It’s a forum, but… you can’t see any other student’s work until you’ve posted something and waited 30 minutes. After that’s expired, you can read and engage with your other students.

Seems great right, however, for busy online learners it’s actually worse. For students doing a part-time masters, the Q&A forum causes more problems than it solves.

Why though?

Cognitive Load; we’ve found, being able to read other students replies and thoughts before adding your own works better with students who are time poor. Often the act of waiting for 30 minutes before reading any other replies means you’ve already had to move onto a later topic already. So going backwards again to a previous subject causes more cognitive load, anxiety and stress on an already time poor learner.

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Higher order thinking; as I mentioned before, online learning works best with conversation to build learning. The concept of refusing students to immediately see each other’s submissions to advance their own doesn’t work. For time poor global post-graduates, reading the topic or activity and the present critique means your next post advances the group’s thinking rather than pulling it back to the earlier thinking. It’s like turning up to a discussion 2 days after it started and announcing your, now potentially primitive thoughts before joining in. It means you then have to write an initial post, then re-write something else to play a part in advancing your group’s thinking.

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Rapport building; all of our students are 100% online, live all over the world and have very different work and learning patterns. Being able to plug straight into the latest conversation and potentially catch someone else who’s online at the same time is of such high value to students. It’s a chance to build rapport by joining in with your fellow students on the off-chance, it’s a chance to not have your learning experience feel too lonely.

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Use Forums, standard or blog-format. Anything that encourages students to converse freely and, as a trusting group, advance all of their learning.

*** In the future ***

I’d love to write a blog post on these great questions set by Christine Lewinski, however, time ran out! But they’re such good points, it’s worth including them

What do academics designing modules need to keep in mind as they develop the engagement for the week when there are latency periods. (Note: that latency in response time is one of the hallmarks of online learning and is generally viewed positively)

What do learners taking modules need to keep in mind as they plan their engagement such as how to subscribe to forums in order to be alerted when there is new activity. (It may be that the instructions focus on the negative “you have to wait” aspect? Can this be addressed more simply?)

What do module leaders need to know in order to manage the communication for the group once it goes live. As in some elements are instant in their feedback while others have built in delays to allow for reflection, etc.

Disconnect between learning theory and online practice

Since starting at Keypath UK as a Senior Instructional Designer I have been boning up on many a learning & teaching theory to support the quality of mine / and my team’s output.

However something that always strikes me is the massive disconnect between the touted theory and practice online.

The Community of Inquiry model, Socio-constructivism and Kagan cooperative learning tools can make any learning theorist a hot mess for ages whilst they chatter through the respective merits, however, when it comes to practice, and for online learners, I’ve often found very little solid writing to warm my grey cells.

This work I’m presently carrying out as the partnership manager for delivering online masters however has given me, and the team I lead, ample opportunity to put into practice various parts of each theory.

Obviously I can’t share commercially sensitive work, however it’s work along the lines of  special conversational blocks, signposting for communication and some “set-pieces” for engagement early on.

… and that’s all I can share for now!