About lurking in MOOCs

I signed up a social psychology course on Coursera three weeks ago, and have got at least 3 email from the course team, in which they strongly encourage all social psychers to join group discussion posted on the forum. In fact, I did finish all weekly reading materials and lecture parts, but I must confess, I have never jumped into any sort of student to student interactions. Simply being a “reader” and “listener” is enough for me I think. 

Lurker is a term that is used to describe learners like me, and is often considered a negative one because when people lurk, they don’t establish connections with others. No social interaction in online courses makes it hard for the instructor to know their learning process. Do they totally understand the content? Questions? Any related experience on this topic? An instructor will get nothing if no response or feedback from students. We have been told a thousand times the importance of participation, both in classroom and online course. Given the fact that about 80% people who register for a certain course on Coursera can be defined as Lurkers, no wonder critics suspect the educational value of MOOCs. 

Some experts have conducted a survey about why people lurk in online class.

Here are the Top 12 reasons:

1. Nothing to offer /Others have said it

2. Just reading/browsing is enough

3. Still learning about the group

4. Shy about posting

5. No requirement to post

6. Want to remain anonymous

7. Messages or group low quality

8. Not enough time

9. Long delay getting response

10. Do not know how to post

11. Concern about aggressive responses

12. Too many messages

 I am glad to see the second one. So many respondents feel the same way I do! Then naturally, the problem goes to how to trigger a lurker to an active participant. It is an issue of attitude, I think, and so tough and complex because attitude once formed is very difficult to change. It is not unusual to see a child keeping excluding himself from the class discussion from elementary school to high school, even if his teacher has tried so many times with numerous methods. Things become worse in MOOCs. A large number of sign-up students makes individual advising almost impossible when considering measures to encourage student engagement.

Some instructors and MOOC learners, however, argued that lurking can be regarded as another way of participation. People who lurk are “legitimate peripheral participant”. They prefer to read posts and reflect content in mind. And that does not necessarily lead to poor academic performance, compared to those active participants. One student wrote in her post that “For me most discussion forums offer at best short term low value data, but more often plain old over-sharing.”



4 thoughts on “About lurking in MOOCs

  1. I think there are positive and negative aspects to MOOCs. I love the fact that they are free and available to everyone. This makes learning more accessible. I also like the fact that you are not forced to participate. Sometimes people like to read what others say and learn more from that. One negative aspect to MOOCs is that it is taking away from the interaction between students in the classroom. Students need to learn how to work together, collaborate, and problem solve in order to succeed in today’s economy and get a job. If our educational system is heading toward all online experiences, students will have a harder time learning these skills.

  2. Wow, I really think that sometimes I am merely a “Lurk”. I like to review others’ opinion, but I don’t like to comment on t hem. Sometimes because I don’t have so much thinking about the topic, or it is the first time to get into touch with the topic and thus I don’t know what to say.
    But this is not a very good phenomenon, for that I don’t participate in the discussion, and it is easier for me to forget.

  3. Mengying, I enjoyed reading your blog posts and found this post on lurking particularly interesting. We could ask a different question about lurking: instead of asking the lurkers why they don’t participate, we could ask them why they lurk–this probably could help us understand what lurkers gain from lurking…

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