Does Lack of Professional Experience Discourage Participation in Online Learning Settings?

With online learning in professional settings for adults, instructors often wonder whether their less experienced students feel comfortable participating.  A study I conducted several years ago suggested that in online professional development courses, novices were actively observing online discussions but made few contributions.  In other words, novices “participated,” but were in the background.

However, this new research I conducted with several colleagues reports on the differences in novices and experienced professionals in participating in online discussion boards.  In this environment, active online participation was expected, but not mandated through requirements for a specific number of online posts each week.  The findings suggested that both novices and experienced students use the medium in very similar ways. In other words, we didn’t find that the novices were “fading into the background.”

The research is somewhat inconclusive and raises additional questions.  This current research was in the first course of a cohort-based master’s program that emphasized relationship building.  My previous work was located in a shorter 6-week online professional development program.  The differences are important due to the ability to build community in a cohort-based master’s degree program.  These differences suggest more research is needed, but also point to the importance of facilitating online community building in order for all students to feel welcome, included, and comfortable participating.

The article was published by Edgard Cornacchione, Oenardi Lawanto, Scott Johnson, and myself.  The full text version is available by clicking here.

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