Skip to main content


Question of the Week

Which learning science-related researcher or author do you admire and why? Email us at and we’ll compile a list of answers for next week’s issue. (Our guess: we’ll see Stephen Downes appear at least once on this list.)

If You Build a Discussion Tool, Will They Use It?

In a 2019 study appearing in the British Journal of Educational Technology (or BJET, as the cool kids call it), researchers Schaefer, Fabian, and Kopp analyzed comments from an online course to examine if and how collaborative learning can manifest in an asynchronous discussion, even without a dedicated discussion moderator.

Key Takeaway: Learners don’t necessarily need a discussion moderator, as long as the topic of discussion is highly relevant. But if you’re presenting information that’s less relevant, less controversial, or less engaging, expect to put in some work getting your learners to use the discussion tool.

Read More: The Dynamics of Online Learning at the Workplace: Peer-Facilitated Social Learning and the Application in Practice

Discussions: What’s the Big Deal?

“Intensive discussion in learning groups resulted in higher cognitive interaction and better grades. The action of exchanging and defending one’s ideas helped [learners] remember and understand the learning material.”
(Schaefer, Fabian, & Kopp, 2019)

Fostering Relatedness in Online Learning

Our thanks to reader Kieran M. and the cutest pup Rosie (see below for proof) for the suggestion to talk more about relatedness, an important component of intrinsic motivation (according to Ryan & Deci’s self-determination theory). Here are a few articles to check out:

Butz & Stupnisky's 2017 experiment, reported in Computers & Education, examined how participation in an asynchronous online discussion intervention affected students' feelings of relatedness and self-efficacy for relatedness development in synchronous hybrid learning environments. Their findings: learners who participated in the intervention -- an online discussion board -- improved their self-efficacy for developing relatedness with individuals who attended the course online.

Key Recommendations:

  • “Given that not all students desire social interaction, instructors may wish to introduce more flexibility in terms of teamwork requirements. To this end, one viable recommendation is to create an open virtual space, such as the one used in this study, where students could meet freely to form connections and work collaboratively on class assignments. By making collaboration optional, students who prefer a more solitary learning experience could choose to work independently. The main point is that students who want to learn through peer interaction should be given the pedagogical space to do so” (p. 134)
  • “Simply responding to a peer-authored post does not create a lasting bond between the parties involved…. Therefore, it is recommended that instructional designers carefully consider the social goals of a course, as different types of interaction will be necessary to facilitate the authentic connections that characterize true relatedness” (p. 134).

Read More: Improving student relatedness through an online discussion intervention: The application of self-determination theory in synchronous hybrid programs Reedy & Sanky (2015) wrote a great thought piece, Designing for Relatedness: Learning Design at the Virtual Cultural Interface.

Their Point: We’re designing systems to connect more learners to content, but not to each other, and learners are missing out.

Key Quote: “The distributed nature of online learning has created endless possibilities for connecting people to each other in educational environments, yet this possibility is juxtaposed by stories of isolation and a lack of connectedness by many online learners” (pp. 240-241).

Hartnett (2015) conducted an experiment to determine what factors undermine relatedness. Her Findings: Disagreements with other students and communication issues can undermine relatedness. In addition, group work can be isolating, as it doesn’t foster connection to the larger class.

Read More: Influences that undermine learners’ perceptions of autonomy, competence and relatedness in an online context

Ambikairajah, Ambikairajah, & Ambikairajah (2019), in an experiment with university students, found that informal verbal feedback from the instructor, delivered on a regular basis, fostered a significant impact on learners’ sense of relatedness. Key Takeaway: Don’t shy away from making connections with learners as an instructor.

Read More: The impact of improving feelings of relatedness on motivation and engagement for tertiary students

Thank you, Kieran M.!

What learning science questions do you have? Email us at
with suggestions on what to cover in next week’s issue!‍

Are You Still There?

Learning Science Weekly is the smarter way to stay on top of updates related to the science of learning and how it can be applied in corporate and customer education. Each week, our editors will share content that can help you create evidence-based learning experiences that drive real-world results.

Let us know what you think, and what you’d like for us to cover next week, at

Your reward for making it this far: a picture of a cute dog.‍

Pets of Learning Science

Everyone, say hi to Rosie, who's the companion of Learning Science Weekly reader Kieran M.!

Do you have an adorable pet? Send us a picture and it could be featured in next week’s issue. :)

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!