Social Networks, Teaching & Learning

What Do Students Learn Through Discussion?

I went through asynch discussion burnout during my Masters. 5 courses back to back where the main tool of interaction with classmates was an asynchronous discussion board. Some tips that I appreciated as a student – faculty limiting us to postings of no more than 200 words, and breaking us into smaller groups to keep the conversation more manageable. I also appreciated having those groups mixed up during the course to keep it fresh and to introduce new ideas and ways of thinking into our discussion.

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What Do Students Learn Through Discussion?

Using a qualitative design, researchers identified four different ways students reported they were using discussion to promote learning.

  • To challenge ideas – both their own and others with the goal of arriving at a more complete understanding
  • To develop ideas – using the ideas of others to improve their own thinking
  • To acquire ideas – using discussion as a way of collecting ideas
  • To check ideas – making sure that their ideas were the right ones; that they were learning the right things

The researchers identify the first two approaches as deep learning methods and the last two as more typical of surface learning approaches.

The researchers also point out that students don’t always see the potential for learning through discussion—it’s just another one of those things some teachers have them do. You think the reason for having discussions is obvious to students? I’d encourage you to test that assumption. Next time you’ve had a discussion, ask students why you had them discuss the topic rather than simply lecturing on it or have them read about it in the text. If I had to guess, I’d say that question will first be met with silence, followed by some glib answers, “You didn’t have time to prepare a lecture,” followed by other answers, none still very insightful, “It’s a way to keep us awake.”



CC BY 4.0 What Do Students Learn Through Discussion? by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.