Learner engagement during online and blended courses

Shalni Gulati (SHSC)

The past decade has seen a proliferation of information and communication technologies in higher education institutions. Online discussions are popularly used in online and blended courses to enable socially constructivist learning. Emphasis on participation in online discussions has also led to compulsory participation in some courses. Nonetheless, while some learners engage and benefit from online discussions others remain silent.

The research questioned how did active, moderate and silent online discussion participants construct meaning during formal courses. A combination of Repertory Grid Method and grounded theory was used to elicit postgraduate professional learners’ experiences and learning constructs. The research results identified two main personal constructs, personal control and emotions, and three tenets, online social identity construction, their learning preferences and their IT access and skills, that influenced engagement. These construct and tenets in turn influenced learners’ choice to participate in online and offline learning activities.

The research proposes an emerging theory of engagement in online learning and offers a critique for Salmon’s five stage model. The conclusion argues the need to reconsider our online strategies to enable students to experience greater level of personal control and deeper emotional connection.