A research study from Taylor’s College found that online discussion boards are an important tool when promoting student-centered learning. The study took a total of 57 students and had them participate in an Blackboard LMS online discussion board to formulate focus questions on a topic of their choice. The students were able to accomplish the following in their online discussions:
- Were able to effectively put forward ideas, reflect on and evaluate comments, and make revisions to their focus questions and ideas.
- Were able to exchange more ideas and perspectives than those in a face to face environment.
- Felt freer to take issue with different perspectives, allowing them to exercise critical thinking and achieve greater levels of personal reflection.
- Were able to demonstrate the ability to use higher order cognitive processing such as analysis and evaluation.
- Were able to increase their evaluative thought which inadvertently led to more meaningful learning experiences as they displayed an ability to evaluate themselves more honestly.
So how do online discussion boards promote student-centered learning?
Student-centered learning is rooted in constructivism. Constructivist learning is based on social contexts that individuals construct knowledge based on interactions with their social and cultural surroundings.
Research from the University of Portsmouth found that learning is intrinsically social, and exposing yourself to other’s thinking processes promotes cognitive growth. Students learn to think by incorporating what they hear from others, and will engage in learning strategies that entail seeking multiple perspectives via dialogue with other learners. Incorporating what students can accomplish in online discussion boards helps facilitate this.
An example (from Portsmouth), students that were active in online discussion boards had higher academic performance in the essay element of their test. Because essay writing is a complex assessment task that requires a wide range of skills (such as selection, organization, evaluation, and creative use of material) the level of processing cannot be taught, but can be developed through self-centered learning. Entering in a online discussion dialogue can influence achievement in writing, and can perhaps even facilitate cognitive growth.
Overall, online discussion boards allow students to reflect on other students answers, and gives students the ability to use the input from their classmates to make decisions when formulating their own answers. Constructivists stress that learners determine what, when, and how learning will occur, and online discussion boards gives the learner control on what they want to generate and implement in their learning. A learner defines a need to know, and they access information from their peers, and resources based on the online discussion boards to locate the information deemed helpful.