Online learning and coursework have become popular in the last 20 years with many institutions of higher learning having some kind of online learning. This is driven by the need to increase learning opportunities, incorporate people from different cultures to gain a broader perspective, and the fact that some course can be learned quickly. Institutions of higher learning are now incorporating online learning into their learning models as long-term strategies but the challenge has been on finding ways of ensuring that students are engaged in asynchronous online discussions, seeing as this is a critical part of learning. Just like traditional face-to-face learning, it is important to ensure that learners participate in the learning process as it builds confidence and ensures that learners are engaged with the course material.
Being an engaged learner has various meanings. However, the most succinct definition holds that it is a situation in which a learner’s curiosity, interest, passion, and optimism are shown in the process of learning when they are paying attention (Gray & DiLoreto 2016). This shows that the learner is actively interacting with the course material and is engaging critical thinking in the process. Being engaged enhances a learner’s motivation in learning, which improves their ability to learn and interest in education. In a face-to-face situation, it is easy for the tutor to keep learners engaged, as the tutor can ensure that there is full participation (Gray & DiLoreto 2016). However, this is much more difficult in asynchronous online learning, where learners participate at different times and there is little way to ensure that everyone takes an active role.
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In this discussion, the focus will be on determining what factors affect student engagement in asynchronous learning environments, with some of the discussed factors including language barrier, study time, instructor participation, and feedback from peers and instructors. The study will first review available literature on student engagement in asynchronous online discussions before delving into a critical analysis of the available information regarding the topic. The aim is to come up with a holistic discussion on how certain factors facilitate or hinder student engagement in this unique learning environment, with the aim of providing insights on how the identified problems can be handled to solve the existing problems.
Method and Quality of Reading
The selected literature will be from academic publications such as journals, research papers, and scientific journals. The papers have been selected from journals such as Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, Sage, Springer, and Reed Elsevier. They are selected as they have systematic publishing rules are host primary and secondary research articles which contain new, and relevant information. The libraries also have online publications which can be easily found using keywords. The keywords used in the selection of articles include “Student engagement in online learning” “asynchronous online learning” “online learning” “online course materials and discussions” and “Student engagement in asynchronous discussions.” The selected articles were those which were primary and secondary research articles and which has been published in the last 9 years. this is because, online learning is an evolving phenomenon and the changes in the system of learning can significantly have different results. The study first identified 50 publications which had met the initial criteria for the study. However, after a critical analysis of the identified articles only 22 were selected as they holistically tackled various topics related to student engagement in asynchronous online discussions.
With online learning becoming a key part of the modern education system, student engagement can be a challenge for both learners and their tutors. There is the risk of learners simply being passive participants whose only focus is on passing exams (Dayson, Vickers, Turtle, Cowan, & Tassone 2015). The problem with this is that most often, the learners do not engage satisfactorily with the learning materials, which means that they do not really learn anything. Notably, increased engagement leads to peer-to-peer learning, one of the most effective ways of learning that has been used for many years. It also enhances critical thinking as a learner is not reduced to a simple consumer of the information being passed on. Research shows that the lack of face-to-face interactions should not be a hindrance to learning, especially in the modern world where there are many social tools and platforms that can be used to enhance learning (Dayson, Vickers, Turtle, Cowan, & Tassone 2015). This means that with online discussions, learners have many options which tutors can explore to increase engagement.
Feedback from Peers and Instructors
Constructive feedback in the form of value-added comments has been found to be one way of engaging learners online. Such comments can be by the tutor or peers and the aim is to enhance a discussion by posing questions and introducing new dimensions to a discussion. A study carried out by Comer and Lenaghan (2012), found that value-added feedback is key in enhancing student engagement in asynchronous online discussions. According to the quasi-experiment study, this feedback was found to help in sparking conversations which had learners taking an active role. The study further found that the use of original examples also enhances student engagement in asynchronous online discussions, as it forces learners to think critically of the material they learn and then provide examples (Comer & Lenaghan 2012). The use of examples is aimed at showing the learners understand the subject matter and its main points. This has been one of the main ways in which online learning has been enhanced over time, especially in situations where the subject matter requires different perspectives.
In a qualitative study conducted by Hancock and Rowland (2017), it emerged that using discussion roles was key in facilitating engagement in online asynchronous discussions. Discussion roles have been found to create an environment in which critical thinking occurs as those leading discussions have to critically understand the subject matter to lead discussions (Hancock and Rowland 2017). The learner can then provide feedback to other students. This method was found to be effective as the discussion is led by fellow learners and creates an environment of peer learning (Young & Bruce 2011). In this model, instructors only played the role of overseeing the discussions (Hancock and Rowland 2017). This enabled learners to take active roles in the learning process. Notably discussions have been found to enhance critical thinking and when they are peer-driven, they create an environment in which learning is a continuous process that encourages learners to interact with one another and interact with the course material. The study found that there was more participation when discussion roles were assigned to learners (Hancock and Rowland, 2017). This, according to the study, is due to the fact that learning is seen as an interactive process between learners and not a process driven by tutors (Hancock and Rowland, 2017).
Finally, the use of modern video technology improved asynchronous learning in online classes. Notably, asynchronous learning does not involve having all the learners in participation at the same time. A study carried out by Draus, Curran, and Trempus (2014), video content provided by the teacher enhanced student participation. The production of videos by tutors has been shown to help learners get an experience of face-to-face interactions, which improves interaction. According to the study, videos produced by tutors further gave learners an opportunity to understand non-verbal cues of communication to encourage them to participate in the learning process (Hancock and Rowland 2017). The researchers noted that when the video content was especially uploaded on popular video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, learners found it easy to engage the with the content. This is because, it encouraged modern ways of interacting with content, through comments.
According to studies, commenting on popular social networking sites have become a modern way of engaging with content (Joksimović, Gašević, Kovanović, Riecke & Hatala 2015). Most people find it easy to comment on content that they interact with, regardless of language barrier or how they understand the content. Thus, the use of video not only brought face-to-face interactions to such discussions, it created an opportunity for learners to interact with content on a medium that they are comfortable with. The platform also encouraged peer and tutor feedback in the comments section, with studies showing that such comments led to long discussions on the subject matter, which led to engagement (Joksimović, Gašević, Kovanović, Riecke & Hatala 2015). The use of the comments section was found to lead to lengthy discussions on the subject matter, since the feedback provided could be viewed and consumed by other learners who could then comment on the comments provided. In some instances, tutors also recorded videos which responded to the comments or addressed the questions that had been asked by learners. This showed that the tutor paid attention to the activity of learners, which was translated into engagement with the tutor. The result was more consumption of information by learners as they sought to understand the perspective of the tutor as well as provide their own perspective.
Thus, the use of feedback has been found to be an effective way of encouraging learner engagement in the learning process. It indicates that the information provided by learners is useful and encourages learners and tutors to understand different perspectives and provide their own. This encourages learners to actively participate in the process. Value-added feedback has been shown to be the most effective kind of feedback, as it expands the discussion and introduces new information, which a contributor can refute or accept.
Comer, D.R. and Lenaghan, J.A., 2013. Enhancing discussions in the asynchronous online classroom: The lack of face-to-face interaction does not lessen the lesson. Journal of Management Education, 37(2), pp.261-294.
Draus, P.J., Curran, M.J. and Trempus, M.S., 2014. The influence of instructor-generated video content on student satisfaction with and engagement in asynchronous online classes. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(2), pp.240-254.
Dyson, B., Vickers, K., Turtle, J., Cowan, S. and Tassone, A., 2015. Evaluating the use of Facebook to increase student engagement and understanding in lecture-based classes. Higher Education, 69(2), pp.303-313.
Gray, J.A. and DiLoreto, M., 2016. The effects of student engagement, student satisfaction, and perceived learning in online learning environments. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 11(1), p.n1.
Hancock, C. and Rowland, B., 2017. Online and out of synch: Using discussion roles in online asynchronous discussions. Cogent Education, 4(1), p.1368613.
Joksimović, S., Gašević, D., Kovanović, V., Riecke, B.E. and Hatala, M., 2015. Social presence in online discussions as a process predictor of academic performance. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 31(6), pp.638-654.
Young, S. and Bruce, M.A., 2011. Classroom community and student engagement in online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2), pp.219-230.