Engagement in online asynchronous discussions: Roles of students' interests and preferences

Hin Wang Kevin Chan, Simon Lai, Hildie Leung, Kelvin Wan

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingConference article published in proceeding or bookAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Asynchronous discussion is considered an effective and pervasive tool for engaging students to learn in an online or blended environment. Quality of asynchronous discussions in online learning platform has been suggested to associate with various design and learners characteristics, such as forum design in terms of embeddedness with background knowledge, social presence in group, type of discussion topics relating to higher-order thinking, cognitive strategies for eliciting discussion (e.g. debate, role-play), discussion group size, and intrinsic motivation to engage in asynchronous discussions. Design and facilitation in asynchronous discussions constitute two major determinants in the success of interaction among students in a discussion forum setting. Regarding issues pertaining to the design of asynchronous discussions, relatedness to real-life problems, rubrics and guidelines for discussion participation, and students' choice, are key components for conceptualizing effective construction of knowledge through discussion. While empirical evidence on effectiveness of asynchronous discussion in online learning suggested that choice and intrinsic motivation are critical to students' interaction and performance in discussion, the extent to which students' choices would moderate their effort and performance in participating discussions has received little attention and empirical investigation. The current study aims to explore role of students' interest and choice in asynchronous discussion in predicting their engagement and performance in the discussion process. With students' choice operationalized as their self-indicated preference for discussion topic, we examine the following research hypotheses: 1) Students' self-indicated preference for a specific topic among an array of topics available for asynchronous discussions would be associated with quantitative performance in the discussion process, in terms of the frequency of posts; and 2) Students' self-indicated preference for a specific topic among an array of topics available for asynchronous discussions would be associated with qualitative performance in the discussion process, in terms of the higher-order thinking artefacts exhibited in their posts. These research questions were tested with an observational design study with 707 students in a large undergraduate introductory psychology course in Hong Kong. Participating students engaged in a 3-week asynchronous discussion towards summative assessment via a centralized learning management system (LMS). Discussion behaviors were extracted from the LMS, while learning outcomes attainment was coded according to the structure of observed learning outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy. Students' volition to participate, operationalized as their indicated preference for a specific topic out of an array of 8 available topics on the subject matter, correlated with their effort and performances in the discussion in terms of post frequencies, post length, and learning outcomes with reference to the SOLO taxonomy. Findings suggested that students' indicated preferences to commit to their discussion topics influenced their participation in the discussion in terms of both posting behaviors and level of learning outcomes. Impact on current findings for understanding students' autonomy and commitment in asynchronous discussion should be contextualized in a constructivist-learning environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 11th International Conference on e-Learning, ICEL 2016
PublisherAcademic Conferences Limited
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781910810910
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Event11th International Conference on e-Learning, ICEL 2016 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Duration: 2 Jun 20163 Jun 2016


Conference11th International Conference on e-Learning, ICEL 2016
CityKuala Lumpur


  • Asynchronous discussions
  • Blended learning
  • Constructivism
  • Learning management system (LMS)
  • Students' engagement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Information Systems
  • Education

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