Case for ‘Passive’ Learning – the ‘Silent’ Community of Online Learners

  • 1 The Open University [], United Kingdom


This paper examines two modules within the Faculty of Social Sciences at The Open University (OU) and considers the extent to which ‘passive’ learning may be taking place. Both are level one modules (first year undergraduate) and use a combination of asynchronous (forums) and synchronous (Blackboard Collaborate technology, branded ‘OU Live’) technologies for teaching. The data reveals that student ‘passive engagement’ with forums (reading messages in a forum, but not ‘actively’ posting, colloquially known as lurking) is far higher than ‘active engagement’ (posting in the forum). The data also shows that participation in OU Live is very low. This initially suggests that teaching and learning strategies needs to be reconsidered, to encourage or increase ‘active engagement’. However, the data, alongside literature, also suggests that some students may find value in engaging ‘passively’. From the perspective of a Higher Education (HE) institute such as the OU, this may have implications for the tuition delivery strategy used to deliver the module material, as well as how staff development occurs for the tutors that deliver the material. For example, rather than focus a significant effort on encouraging students to participate in active forum use, the emphasis may need to be shifted to ensuring that appropriate/sufficient material is available to ‘passive engagers’.

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