Participating in Synchronous Online Education

University dissertation from KFS AB

Abstract: There is an increasing need for education since the workforce of today is expected to be highly educated and continuously learn. Distance education is a powerful response to meet the growing need for education. Online education, here concisely defined as distance education mediated online, is the most common type of distance education. It mainly relies on asynchronous communication although it is well known that many students regard the lack of synchronous communication as disadvantageous. This thesis aims to achieve a deeper understanding of how, why and when synchronous communication, as a complement to asynchronous communication, affects student participation in online education. In order to study the complex phenomenon of online student participation, various qualitative and quantitative data collection methods for assessing both perceived participation and actual participation were used. The aim was investigated in two offerings of an online undergraduate course and two series of online discussions on master level, and by conducting focus group interviews with experienced practitioners. The findings indicate that synchronous communication has the potential to enhance online student participation. Light was shed on two dimensions of participation, which were labelled personal participation and cognitive participation. The thesis suggests that synchronous communication, as a complement to asynchronous communication, may better support personal participation. This is likely to induce arousal and motivation, and increased convergence on meaning, especially in smaller groups. Synchronous communication seems particularly beneficial for supporting task and social support relations, and to exchange information with a lower degree of complexity. By drawing on the studies of the thesis and previous research, propositions on when to support synchronous communication in online education were suggested.

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