Study shows sharing ideas online helps learning more than personal exchanges

Unnati Narang – assistant professor of business administration, University of Illinois. Photo:

In what may come as a welcome surprise to parents, teachers, and students after a year of online learning – its actually good for you! And you may be learning more by sharing your ideas online than sharing just personal details.

According to a study co-led by Professor Unnati Narang of the University of Illinois Gies School of Business, sharing ideas in an online education forum “has a distinct advantage over sharing personal details in driving learner engagement in massive open online courses,” more commonly known as MOOCs.

Their paper was published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

Narang, who studies intersection of marketing and digital environments, found, along with her co-authors, that online learning engagement can be increased by at least one-third if teachers prompt students to share course ideas in a discussion forum, a news report on the university’s website says.

It is way better than having students share information about themselves and their personal motivations for enrolling, Professor Narang’s study concludes.

Results were based on analyzing more than 12,000 discussion forum postings and a field experiment where more than 2,000 learners took part in a popular online course offered by a large U.S. university, the news report said without identifying the course or the university.

Sadly, less than 10% of online learners complete courses, and less than 5% participate in course discussions, according to data provided in the report. Hence the importance of identifying and using strategies that could enhance student engagement, according to Narang.

“Engagement levels have tended to be really low in online classrooms simply because students may not ever get the chance to get to know each other in the way they do in an in-person, face-to-face classroom,” Narang is quoted saying in the news report. “A lot of those elements are, quite obviously, lacking in the online learning environment.”

The early emphasis on having discussion forums to engage students seems to have petered out, she says.

“Even if a student is posting something, it may never be read by a classmate or by the instructor, which can really demotivate students who are trying to engage in the material,” Narang contends.

“We randomly nudged students to either share something personal about themselves or ideas related to the course,” Narang said.

The researchers assumed personal sharing would engage students more, only that did not happen.

Instead it was ideas sharing that engaged the students, the study showed.

“We found that the idea of sharing knowledge outperforms identity sharing as well as the control condition of not sharing anything,” Narang said.

“Across diverse metrics of learner engagement and performance, we found that what learners share plays a big role in enhancing the online learning environment, and they tended to perform 30% better in terms of how many videos they consumed, how many assessments they completed and how they scored on assessments. So there’s a distinct advantage to idea sharing in online pedagogy,” Narang and her co-authors concluded.

Co-authors of the study were Aric Rindfleisch, the John M. Jones Professor of Marketing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Manjit S. Yadav, the JC Penney Chair in Marketing and Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University.



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