Asynchronous Online Discussions During Case-Based Learning: A Problem-Solving Process

Adrie A Koehler, Zui Cheng, Holly Fiock, Shamila Janakiraman, Huanhuan Wang


Asynchronous discussions are typically considered an essential aspect of online case-based learning. While instructors implement discussions to support a variety of instructional purposes during case-based learning (e.g., facilitate students’ sense making, prompt the consideration of diverse perspectives, debate complex topics), whether students receive the expected benefits is unclear, and little research has considered how students intentionally participate in discussions to support their learning during case-based learning. At the same time, students’ participation in asynchronous online discussions represents a complex endeavor. That is, students must make several decisions regarding how to effectively participate, while simultaneously experiencing several challenges. The purpose of this exploratory multiple-case study was to consider the experiences of six graduate students participating in asynchronous online discussions as a part of a case-based course. By analyzing these experiences, we were able to conceptualize students’ navigation of an asynchronous online discussion as a problem-solving process and consider individual problem-solving approaches. Results indicate that students relied primarily on instructors to determine the purpose of their discussion participation, expressed differing levels of value for participating in discussions, adopted a variety of strategies to meet discussion participation goals, and assessed their participation efforts mainly based on guidelines set by the instructor. We offer suggestions for effectively designing and facilitating asynchronous online discussions and discuss areas needing future research.


Asynchronous Online Discussions, Case-Based Learning, Problem Solving

Full Text:



Anderson, W. L., Mitchell, S. M., & Osgood, M. P. (2008). Gauging the gaps in student problem-solving skills: Assessment of individual and group use of problem-solving strategies using online discussions. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 7(2), 254-262.

Azer, S. A. (2001). Problem based learning: Challenges, barriers and outcome issues. Saudi Medical Journal, 22(5), 389–397.

Baars, M., Vink, S., van Gog, T., de Bruin, A., & Paas, F. (2014). Effects of training self-assessment and using assessment standards on retrospective and prospective monitoring of problem solving. Learning and Instruction, 33, 92-107.

Ballantine J. (2005, November). What didn’t work and why? Failed teaching attempts and what to do about them. Paper presented at the 25th annual Lilly Conference on College Teaching, Oxford, OH.

Beaudoin, M. F. (2002). Learning or lurking? Tracking the “invisible” online student. The Internet and Higher Education, 5(2), 147-155. doi:10.1016/S1096-7516(02)00086-6

Blackmon, S. (2012). Outcomes of chat and discussion board use in online learning: A research synthesis. Journal of Educators Online, 9(2), 2.

Cheung, W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2004). Evaluating the extent of ill-structured problem solving process among pre-service teachers in an asynchronous online discussion and reflection log learning environment. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 30(3), 197-227.

Choi, I., & Lee, K. (2009). Designing and implementing a case-based learning environment for enhancing ill-structured problem solving: Classroom management problems for prospective teachers. Educational Technology Research & Development, 57(1), 99-129.

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2016). Learning theory and technology: A reciprocal relationship. In N. Rushby & D. W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology (pp. 58–76). New York, NY: Wiley.

Ertmer, P. A., & Stepich, D. A. (2005). Instructional design expertise: How will we know it when we see it? Educational Technology, 45(6), 38-43.

Eseryel, D., Ge, X., Ifenthaler, D., & Law, V. (2011). Dynamic modeling as a cognitive regulation scaffold for developing complex problem-solving skills in an educational massively multiplayer online game environment. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 45(3), 265-286.

Galustyan, O. V., Borovikova, Y. V., Polivaeva, N. P., Kodirov, B. R., & Zhirkova, G. P. (2019). E-learning within the field of andragogy. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 14(9), 148–156.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7-23. doi:10.1080/08923640109527071

Goeze, A., Zottmann, J. M., Vogel, F., Fischer, F., & Schrader, J. (2014). Getting immersed in teacher and student perspectives: Facilitating analytical competence using video cases in teacher education. Instructional Science, 42(1), 91-114.

Gravett, S., de Beer, J., Odendaal-Kroon, R., & Merseth, K. K. (2017). The affordances of case-based teaching for the professional learning of student-teachers. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 49(3), 369-390.

Hew, K.F., Cheung, W.S. & Ng, C.S.L. (2010). Student contribution in asynchronous online discussion: a review of the research and empirical exploration. Instructional Science, 38, 571–606.

Hofsten, A., Gustafsson, C., & Häggström, E. (2010). Case seminars open doors to deeper understanding – Nursing students’ experiences of learning. Nurse Education Today, 30(6), 533-538.

Jacob, S. A., & Furgerson, S. P. (2012). Writing interview protocols and conducting interviews: Tips for students new to the field of qualitative research. Qualitative Report, 17(42).

Jonassen, D. H. (1997). Instructional design models for well-structured and ill-structured problem-solving learning outcomes. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(1), 65–94. 9613

Jonassen, D. H. 1 & Hernandez-Serrano, J. (2002). Case-based reasoning and instructional design: Using stories to support problem solving. Educational Technology Research & Development, 50(2), 65-77.

Lee, S.-H., Lee, J., Liu, X., Bonk, C. J., & Magjuka, R. J. (2009). A review of case-based learning practices in an online MBA program: A program-level case study. Part of a special issue: Technology Support for Self-Organized Learners, 12(3), 178-190.

Missett, T. C., Reed, C. B., Scot, T. P., Callahan, C. M., & Slade, M. (2010). Describing learning in an advanced online case-based course in environmental science. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(1), 10-50.

Moore, M. G. (2013). The theory of transactional distance. In Handbook of distance education, pp. 84-103. Routledge.

Mostert, M. P. (2007). Challenges of case-based teaching. The Behavior Analyst Today, 8(4), 434. Retrieved from

Pena-Shaff, J. (2015). Student interaction and knowledge construction in case-based learning in educational psychology using online discussions: The role of structure. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 26(3), 307-329

Pena-Shaff, J., & Altman, W. (2009). Case-Based Instruction Using Asynchronous Online Discussions: A Synthesis. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 20(3), 97-121.

Pena-Shaff, J. B., & Nicholls, C. (2004). Analyzing student interactions and meaning construction in computer bulletin board discussions. Computers & Education, 42(3), 243-265.

Putman, S. M., Ford, K., & Tancock, S. (2012). Redefining online discussions: Using participant stances to promote collaboration and cognitive engagement. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 24(2), 151-167.

Rivers, W. P. (2001). Autonomy at all costs: an ethnography of metacognitive self-assessment and self-management among experienced language learners. Modern Language Journal, 85(2), 279–290.

Rovai, A., & Jordan, H. (2004). Blended learning and sense of community: A comparative analysis with traditional and fully online graduate courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 5(2), 2-13. Retrieved from

Schraw, G., Kauffman, D., & Lehman, S. (2002). SRL theory. In J. Levin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of cognitive science. London, England: Macmillan.

Schwartz, P. L., Egan, A. G., & Heath, C. J. (1994). Studentsʼ perceptions of course outcomes and learning styles in case-based courses in a traditional medical school. Academic Medicine, 69(6), 507.

Tainsh, R. (2016). Thoughtfully Designed Online Courses as Effective Adult Learning Tools. MPAEA Journal of Adult Education, 45(1), 32–37.

Tawfik, A. A. (2017). Do cases teach themselves? A comparison of case library prompts in supporting problem-solving during argumentation. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 29(2), 267-285.

Tawfik, A. A., & Jonassen, D. (2013). The effects of successful versus failure-based cases on argumentation while solving decision-making problems. Educational Technology Research & Development, 61(3), 385-406. doi:10.1007/s11423-013-9294-5

Tawfik, A. A., & Kolodner, J. L. (2016). Systematizing scaffolding for problem-based learning: A view from case-based reasoning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 10(1), available at

Tawfik, A. A., Reeves, T. D., Stich, A. E., Gill, A., Hong, C., McDade, J., ... & Giabbanelli, P. J. (2017). The nature and level of learner–learner interaction in a chemistry massive open online course (MOOC). Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 29(3), 411-431.

Weltzer-Ward, L. (2011). Content analysis coding schemes for online asynchronous discussion. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 28(1), 56-74.

Winne, P. H. (1996). A metacognitive view of individual differences in SRL. Learning and Individual Differences, 8, 327-353.

Wirkala, C., & Kuhn, D. (2011). Problem-based learning in K-12 education: Is it effective and how does it achieve its effects? American Educational Research Journal, 48(5), 1157-1186.

Wu, S. Y., Hou, H. T., Hwang, W. Y., & Liu, E. Z. F. (2013). Analysis of learning behavior in problem-solving-based and project-based discussion activities within the seamless online learning integrated discussion (SOLID) system. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 49(1), 61-82.

Xie, K., & Huang, K. (2014). The role of beliefs and motivation in asynchronous online learning in college-level classes. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 50(3), 315-341. DOI:

Xie, K., Durrington, V., & Yen, L. L. (2011). Relationship between students’ motivation and their participation in asynchronous online discussions. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(1), 17-29.

Yadav, A., Bozic, C., Gretter, S., & Nauman, E. (2015). Benefits and challenges of implementing case-based instruction: A Student perspective. International Journal Of Engineering Education, 31(6), 1554-1563. Retrieved from

Yadav, A., Lundeberg, M., DeSchryver, M., Dirkin, K., Schiller, N. A., Maier, K., & Herreid, C. F. (2007). Teaching science with case studies: A national survey of faculty perceptions of the benefits and challenges of using cases. Journal of College Science Teaching, 37(1), 34-38. Retrieved from

Yin, R. K. (2018). Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Zhu, E. (2006). Interaction and cognitive engagement: An analysis of four asynchronous online discussions. Instructional Science, 34, 451-480. doi:10.1007/s11251-006-0004-0


Copyright (c) 2020 Adrie A Koehler, Zui Cheng, Holly Fiock, Shamila Janakiraman, Huanhuan Wang

License URL: