December 6

Can we reduce the number of posts required in an online discussion?

I was asked recently about the standard practice of online discussions – 2 weeks per discussion, 1 response and 2 replies. This is a fairly standard ubiquitous practice and considered a best practice by most online practitioners.

But it is based on anecdotal lived experiences of early online practitioners. If you know of any research on this I would love to see it. I think we have moved past the one size fits all stage of practices in this field of online teaching and learning.

This is a really hard complex question, because it depends… if online discussions and/or more specifically the questions, are not well designed, or discussions not are not well facilitated, or interaction is not valued highly, in terms of the percentage of the grade… it doesn’t matter how many, or how few posts you require … How interactions (discussions)/posts are valued, assessed, or contribute to student learning is what is important. Also, important is whether that is the same for every course for every instructor in your department/program/institution…

This question is about the quantity and quality of interaction (discussion) between students and/or the instructor, – which we know are strong predictors of online student satisfaction and reported learning, and if leaning might be impacted by reducing quantity (not quality). Or, assuming the quality is there, if there might be variables like the discipline/ type of course, or level in the program -first year/vs Jr. or undergrad vs masters… where quantity matters more, or less.

If one perceives pressure to make an online course/program more self-paced to compete with other programs which might be doing that, or because one’s students are, let’s say working adults who are too busy to interact, I’m not sure those are the right decision drivers.

I think the course, content, discipline, instructor, and level of the student should drive those decisions, but again I am not aware of any research-based guidance/recommendations for course/curriculum designers on this issue.

What do you think?