Ten Reasons Students Don’t Participate in Online Discussions & How to Remedy Each

“Why don’t students participate in my online discussion forums?”

Why don’t my students participate in online discussions?

It is most discouraging for instructors when students don’t participate in discussions or group work in online learning environments. It’s hard not to take it personally. However, one can take comfort in the fact that it’s a common phenomenon—and it’s not just in for-credit online classes, but it’s just as common in not-for credit classes, such as MOOCs. I’ve experienced this frustration when working closely with faculty of for-credit classes, and heard from numerous readers of this blog that face similar challenges.  This motivated me to create a resource featuring the top ten reasons for student non-participation and suggestions for remedying each. We developed several methods to overcome this challenge when I worked as lead curriculum developer for online education at a small university, and many proved effective. I’ve shared these in the following resource. I selected the ten most common reasons by using data from end-of-course anonymous surveys, student interviews, anecdotal feedback from online instructors in my network, and personal experience.

Below is the resource available for viewing and download through Scribd, or click here for the file available for viewing and download in Google Docs. I wrote a three-part series last year on facilitating and evaluating online discussions that readers may find useful; I’ve included the links at the end of this post. Also included in the resources section are links to examples of rubrics for online discussions which may be helpful for instructors that plan to create rubrics tailored to one’s own online class.  Comments from instructors  sharing other methods and resources are welcome.

Note: The suggestions in the following resource are not solely the responsibility of the instructor—the institution offering or hosting an online course should assume responsibility for several functions including: guidance for students including technical support, instructional development support for instructors, and instructional tools and education for online instructors.


More Essential and Helpful Resources for Online Instructors

This post features a collection of carefully selected resources specific to teaching online; geared to educators seeking skill development for creating meaningful online discussions, communicating effectively with students, and providing constructive feedback.

iStock_000018547848XSmallThis is the second article in a series featuring select instructional resources—I’m in the process of building a bank of resources accessible from this blog geared to educators seeking skill development in facilitating and designing online courses. Over time I’ll be adding to the Resources section with the goal of sharing high-quality, relevant and helpful resources. This post includes resources grouped by topic with a brief description of each, and an icon indicating its type. For the list of previously featured resources and/or for the icon legend please refer to the resources tab of this site.

IV. Personalized Instructor Feedback and Interactions with Online Students

The level of instructor involvement [or not] in online learning environments is a controversial topic in the education sector. With automated grading programs and LMS platforms that provide automated, yet ‘personalized’ feedback based on student response scores, log-on and key stroke patterns, a growing camp of educators are convinced that learning is not comprised in the absence of an instructor—and is even improved with programmed feedback. Intuitively, I disagree. I see the need for personal interaction and support from an experienced and interested educator. In this section I’ve included a collection of resources that support the premise that interaction and feedback are critical to student success.

pdf1. This literature review paper explores far more than instructor feedback and interaction in online learning spaces, yet it is worthy to include here given it addresses current research concerned with online learning effectiveness in terms of learners’ interactions with their instructors and classmates. The specifics can be found on pages five through eighteen: Learning Effectiveness Online: What the Research Tells Us, Swan, K (2003).

Videos2. Giving feedback and interacting with students in the online classroom is no less important in the virtual realm than in face-to-face; yet doing so requires instructors to be strategic and purposeful in their communication with students, and requires a different perspective. This three-minute clip, Interact with Students featuring the program chair from Penn State World Campus, summarizes how and why faculty involvement with students online differs from, and is just as crucial as in face-to-face classrooms.

blogicon3. I wrote a blog post, ‘Speaking’ to Students with Audio Feedback in Online Courses about providing feedback to online students using audio feedback for student assignments in place of written feedback. The idea came from a communications professor that I follow on Twitter who had great success with this method; her students loved it.  Apparently so do many other students [and instructors] based upon the feedback and reaction from readers. The post explains how-to give audio feedback and what tools to use. The comments within the post are also helpful.

Website Link4. This web article provides three solid strategies for communicating with online students, as a class and individually. Though not specific to skill development for educators, there is helpful information here including how to use a rubric for structuring feedback for students: How to Provide Fair and Effective Feedback in Asynchronous Courses, Gruenbaum, E. (2010).

V.  Fostering Asynchronous Student Discussions

pdf1. Asynchronous discussions that are incorporated into curriculum for online courses can build student engagement and support higher levels of achievement and learning. However in order that forum discussions are successful and not viewed as busy work by students, discussions must be thoughtfully planned before the course begins, and need to be facilitated and monitored once the course is underway. This peer-reviewed article provides the foundational knowledge that educators require to construct the conditions, parameters, and student guidelines for successful and meaningful synchronous discussions:  Essential Elements in Designing Online Discussions to Promote Cognitive Presence — A Practical Experience.

Videos2.  This six-minute video, Conducting effective online discussions from the COFA series Learning to Teaching Online, provides educators with skill development and strategies for managing and facilitating effective online discussions and how to engage students in the process. I can’t say enough about this series from COFA—skill development in a concise format, honed to specific topics, that can be accessed easily by educators for their own skill development when needed.

Website Link3. There are several essential elements inherent to successful asynchronous discussions, and this web article, 5 Tips for Hosting Online Class Discussions,  summarizes the five core elements, including the need to grade student contributions. From my experience, assigning a grade for discussion contributions is necessary to foster participation in for-credit classes, including using a rubric that outlines expectations which increases the chances for a higher quality level of contributions.

As mentioned previously, this is the second post where I’ve shared a set of resources, and I’ve been encouraged by the number of positive responses and excellent suggestions. Thank you! There’s more to come, and in my next post that features resources, I’ll share ones specific to instructional design and pedagogy.