16 Jan 1998 ............... Length about 900 words (6,000 bytes).
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Lurking and computer mediated learner discussion
There will be a seminar at 4pm on Fri. 13 Feb. at ILRG
on "Lurking and computer mediated learner discussion".
Room 593, Graham Hills Building, Strathclyde University.
The format will be more discussion than lecture.
The question is, why do many people join electronic discussion lists but then
do not contribute (write) messages; and does learning depend upon contributing
or in fact do lurkers learn as much as overt contributors.
Three major points that bear on this:
- A] To promote learning, do such discussions have to be actively and
- B] Discussion behaviour depends upon the interaction of three factors: the
value for the learner, the urgency of this goal for the learner, and the social
dynamics of discussion.
- C] Do onlookers (lurkers) learn, and if so is this just another resource like a
textbook, supporting the same kind of learning?
In more detail:
- [A] Explicit, and to some extent novel, interventions and actions are needed
to make CMC fruitful in promoting learning. New media require new (social)
practices; leaving it to old habits brings little benefit.
The NetSem experience: an email seminar course that performed much better
than the face to face format it replaced, but which depended on the interaction
skills of the facilitator including direct incentives for every contribution.
A quite advanced development in this direction is
Finbar Dineen's work.
- [B] There are three issues for participants / lurkers, and we can understand
what goes on and what people do by studying the interplay of these 3 factors:
- the learning value of participating,
- the urgency of this value as a goal,
- the social dynamics of the interaction.
The learning value applies separately to reading and to generating a
contribution, although individuals may not be aware of the added value of
saying something. All goals have not only an importance (value if achieved)
but also an urgency. Lurking is often the behaviour of those with a real
interest, but whose job demands that other things get priority. By "social
dynamics" I want to refer to the demands of managing any interaction. Thus if
there are a thousand subscribers to a list, only a few can contribute actively;
and contributions must not only be manageably few but timely.
- One consequence of this view is that overt participation is NOT a metric of
benefit: it is much more a metric of the social dynamics. The absolute number
of different people contributing can be approximately constant as the total
audience number varies over orders of magnitude.
[Here's some data on this. Actually, my claim is clearly overdone, but there
IS a declining percentage of contributors as total membership goes up.]
- And a corollary problem is that on electronic lists those who do
contribute can feel lonely and unsupported: feedback does not have back
channels. New habits i.e. social practices may be necessary for feedback too?
- Another consequence nevertheless is that some of the benefits for an
individual do depend upon whether they generate as well as receive material.
The action of generating forces re-expression, hence processing, hence learning
(according to the Laurillard model and much else besides). Those who lurk do
not get this benefit.
- In a big list, the majority simply cannot possibly have the benefit of
contributing: the dynamics forbid it. I.e. these factors interact and conflict
(personal benefit and social dynamics in this case).
- On the other hand, writing a contribution that maximises the benefit for the
writer usually does not maximise a lively exchange: on the contrary, the
contributions that spark the most response (the most interaction, the most
dynamic interchanges) seem to have a different character: short, clearly
inviting a response of a kind that is easy and motivating to give. Outrageous
claims, simple questions (requests for help) that haven't been recently dealt
with, paradoxes. (Personal benefit from generating material vs. social
- So discussion fora are unlikely to fill the bill for Laurillard activity
no.2 (conceptual re-expression e.g. essay writing) properly i.e. whatever
discussion is good for, perhaps it isn't really a direct match to the model,
and cannot simply be the implementation of even one of the activities. So
what exactly IS it good for?
(Click here for summary of Laurillard model.)
- [C] Ideas on LBO (learning by onlooking, or "vicarious learning").
It seems likely that learners can learn by being an audience to others'
interactions, although this has not yet been proved. It also seems likely that
the benefits may not be of the same kind as in other kinds of learning. For
instance, learning how other learners are doing on this topic, learning what
counts as a question, learning what status an "answer" has (e.g. universally
accepted fact, a leading opinion, one of several contending theories each with
problems, the teacher's pet belief, ....), learning what this subject is about
and what is (and isn't) known, learning about some topic you would never have
sought out because you didn't know it existed or was interesting. The obvious
pre/post tests and exams of a pre-determined content cannot detect any of these
kinds of learning.
I don't have a full paper on LBO yet, but here are 3 chunks:
References / further links to read
[A] Special social practices
A paper on NETSEM
Finbar Dineen's work.
[B] Three factors determine lurking behaviour?
My personal summary of the issue: where point [B] above came from
The whole ITFORUM discussion on lurking that led to this notion.
[C] LBO (Learning by Onlooking)
A brief note on LBO (learning by onlooking)
Another brief note on LBO
Yet another brief note on LBO