Online learning has become a way of life for many individuals as they depend on such learning programmes to sustain continuous professional development. For busy professionals, this has become a relief as now they have a means of engaging in their work practices as well as devoting much needed time with the families, while making use of ‘left over’ times for learning through the online mode. But, in many online educator forums, much debate is going on, on how to improve the student participation in online discussions as this would be the main instance where students-student and student-tutor interactions can be readily seen and where much of the collaborative learning take place.
According to researchers, many who undertake online learning do not realize what they are getting into and perceive that, just being enrolled and logging in from time to time would be enough to complete a course of study. But, little do they realize that, in fact, most of the learning or shall I say, active learning, takes place in the discussion forums which are contributed by both colleagues as well as by the tutors. Thus, the studies which have aimed at detecting avenues to improve student participation in these online discussions, have come up with several suggestions which we will discuss next to make the students actively engage rather than being a passive entity in the background.
Some of the suggestions are listed below.
-Increase the relevance of a discussion towards the participants work practice or towards their professional and personal lives.
-Provide constructive feedback to the postings made by a student swiftly and encourage more participation through the feedback that the tutors provide.
-Structure the discussions to a certain extent where it can guide the students themselves without deviating to different areas or else would enable them to understand the meaning of engaging in such guided interactions.
-Make use of social contracts or group contracts as a means of stimulating students to achieve a set objective through participation in the online discussions.
-Formulate assessment criteria for the online participation while maintaining the openness in the discussion for the students to freely interact.
-Make the students participate in the process of determining which discussions would be useful and which would not be so.
-Use of logical structures and concept maps to stimulate the students to participate in online discussion forums.
Apart from these, there can be other ways of addressing this issue depending on the institution which conducts the course as well as based on the nature of these participants. At the same time, some of the above mentioned methods may or may not be successful or even if they improve participation, it might not guarantee a quality posting by the students. Thus, you should determine the best approach for your setting and frequent evaluation of such approaches would also be vital in order to determine the best possible approach which can be sustained for a longer period of time.