• Marcia Dixson
  • Michelle Kuhlhorst
  • Amber Reiff



Online Discussions, Learning Groups, Cooperative Learning, Asynchronous


Teaching online courses is unexplored territory for many instructors. Understanding how to use the powerful learning techniques involved in cooperative group learning in an online context is imperative. This paper is a first attempt to explore the dynamics of learning groups in the context of online discussion forums. Given the spread of online learning, the importance of this kind of research cannot be overstated. The authors analyzed the content of twenty asynchronous discussion forums within an online course in family communication. Their findings indicate that such groups send social messages at a fairly high rate; that participation seems to be fairly evenly distributed among members, although having a “leader” is helpful to the group’s process; and that instructor messages and competitive student messages have no apparent effect on the final product. However, they also found that two types of messages— orienting/giving information and showing solidarity—were found more frequently in groups that produced higher quality work. This research opens many questions and offers some guidelines about the most effective ways to structure online learning situations.


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Empirical Studies