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This week’s articles delve into how learners engage in asynchronous online discussions, which lies at the intersection of informal and social/collaborative learning. Specifically, the questions asked are:

  • How do discussions naturally progress in an informal science group?
  • Are instructor-, learner-, or assessment-driven discussions better?

P.S. - With holidays coming up, LSW will be taking a short break.
We hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season + an excellent new year!

Publishing about Particulates

Our first article aimed to assess how people create and share dialogue in an online informal and asynchronous scientific community (Ekman, 2021). Considering we know that learning is often informal and social, this type of research is crucial to understanding how people learn in online discussion forums. Specifically, the research looked at a Facebook group of non-experts measuring particulate matter (PM) in the air. People in the group “build their own monitors” for visualization on a map. Within the group, members share their monitors and help each other to troubleshoot (Ekman, 2021).

Ekman (2021) utilized an online ethnography, which brought me back to grad school when I did a side project studying learning in silverback gorillas (yes, it was super fun!). The goal was to identify exploratory talk, which was categorized into the following: Challenge, Evaluation, Extension, Reasoning, Providing Information, and Community Work (Ekman, 2021). For more information on these, see Table 1 below.

(Ekman, 2021)

Regarding exploratory talk, scaffolding discussions through various threads contributed to building common knowledge. It was found that once a norm is established through discussion, other members went on to continue spreading this knowledge to new or different group members. Thus, illustrating the scaffolding and collaborative aspects of asynchronous group discussion (Ekman, 2021). At times, not all members were aware of the implicit understanding of topics within the group. The author suggested that members need to be more explicit when this happens, to allow “other members to negotiate by co-reasoning, sharing knowledge and ideas and evaluating and considering options” (Ekman, 2021). Lastly, the group appeared to have a “participatory culture,” encouraging discussion and analysis of situations. From the author’s description of threads over time in the group, i.e., continuing knowledge taken from one discussion into the next, it seems fair to say that quite a bit of learning occurred in the group (Ekman, 2021). Thus, social and collaborative learning are likely to be promoted in an informal asynchronous online discussion!

Key Takeaway: Asynchronous online discussions are helpful in adding knowledge! When utilizing these types of communities, scaffolding seems to be important; consider moderating discussions to ensure scaffolding and productive communication.

Read More (Open Access): Ekman, K. (2021). Making sense of sensing: Scaffolding community knowledge in an online informal scientific engagement. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 30.

“Social aspects of creating meaningful participation… could support members of an online engagement to refine and transform knowledge.

To Respond or Not to Respond?

What happens when posting is necessary? In this article, asynchronous discussion posts were part of an online course (Delahunty, 2018). The researcher evaluated three different types of forums: assessment-driven, instructor-driven, and learner-driven. Interestingly, the types of forums rendered different types of posting behavior (Delahunty, 2018).

In the learner-driven forums, almost all posts were independent, rather than replying to peers. Similarly, 57% of the posts in the assessment-driven forum were also independent (Delahunty, 2018). Qualitatively, learners commented that those forums lacked personal contact, since responses were not given. Thus, the researcher posits that attending or “listening” to others is crucial for discussion to move forward in a meaningful way (Delahunty, 2018). Due to this independent talk, there was little interaction or opportunity “for co-constructing knowledge” (Delahunty, 2018).

Through the forums and interviews with learners, it was also found that interpersonal interactions were a crucial component for “creating a ‘safe’ space in which to explore ideas… and asynchronous listening” (Delahunty, 2018). Similar to Ekman (2021), the author suggests that exploratory talk may be a key to co-constructing knowledge in an asynchronous fashion (Delahunty, 2018). In essence, voluntary/learner-led conversations lead to independent posts, rather than co-construction of knowledge. This is important because it tells us that instructors (or experts) should be included in discussion forums, as a way to guide participants and encourage exploratory talk!

Key Takeaway: When implementing an asynchronous discussion format, make sure to include the instructor or experts to encourage productive discussion! It is also helpful to encourage responding directly to someone, using their name, and acknowledging their post to create a safe and welcoming environment for discussion.

Read More ($): Delahunty, J. (2018). Connecting to learn, learning to connect: Thinking together in asynchronous forum discussion. Linguistics and Education, 46.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

We shall finish out 2021 with the lovely image of a sweet man, Pumpkin. He enjoys long naps in the sun and learning how to knock over new items 🪴

I would like to sincerely thank Dorothy for gracing us with his presence this holiday season!

Send us your pet pics at

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!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D.

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