Research on forum participation as a predictor of course completion

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    Hi, I’m the Lead Mentor for a medium-large MetaFans course. With my professor, I’m starting a study of whether participation in a course forum is a predictor of course completion. By “participation,” I mean not only posting, upvoting, and/or and replying to posts, but also reading posts without reacting to them at all (lurking).

    I posted a thread asking our learners what they thought of the forums. Many replied that they like to read them and that they learn from them, but that they do not post themselves because of language barriers. And we know from social media in general that only a small percentage of people who read a post react or respond to it. Most people lurk.

    The primary question will be whether people who post, react, or even lurk are more likely to complete the course than those who do not engage with the forums.

    My early findings are that there is little relationship between posting in forums and course completion, but I was only looking at people who post or reply, not at lurkers, who constitute the majority of forum users. I’m not sure I can get at this data with the datasets we have received from MetaFans, so I’m starting a review of the literature to see whether there are any findings from other platforms or from social media.

    The secondary question will be whether receiving reactions to a post makes a learner more likely to produce further posts and replies, thereby enlarging the discussion and enriching the content. If the answer to the first question turns out to be positive, then encouraging people to post more often (through direct cues in the course, which we already do) might indirectly increase course completion.

    – Right now, I’m seeing between 50-100 replies per day to the “cued” threads. Nearly all posts receive at least an upvote and most get a short response.

    Our completion rate is running about double that of a companion course that does not have active mentoring. But I need to tease out whether active mentoring is encouraging forum participation and thereby leading to our enhanced completion rate because it is frankly a lot of work.

    I would appreciate any thoughts and opinions, and also references to any literature on these topics
    as I start my review of lit.

    Thanks for reading this long thread! 🙂


    Welcome, @stephane-maarek

    It’s indeed an intriguing area of research. 🙂 As a like-minded fellow mentor, I had similar research questions in mind. I knew I could not study it myself because I had no access to enough data. I brought them up on one of the suggestion threads here in the community.

    Is this a correlational study? Are you studying it in just one course? I think subject and assignment types in each course should also be taken into account.


    @stephane-maarek this is very interesting! Since you are a Mentor, have you taken Claire’s Online Community Leadership course? It addresses some of these issues.

    I think you need to look into why people take courses, to begin with. Are they trying to get a certificate so they can include it in their resume? Or, are they looking to self improve? Or are they taking a class just for the fun of it?. This influences completion more than anything else.

    I would audit classes to learn something new or just for the fun of it. I don’t care about completion or a certificate. I could pick and choose the topics I want to know about. I enjoy thoughtful discussions and usually am an avid participant. There is no doubt that learning how to positively interact will make a difference as to whether or not someone responds. I view discussions as conversations. When someone tells me something I question it, ask for further clarification, just positively comment or disagree and want further discussion. As a mentor and leader, it’s important to react to people, make them feel comfortable, and inspire further thought.



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