Online discussion is placed at the centre of many university courses nowadays whether delivered in online-, distance-, external- or internal-mode. There has been significant specialized research investigating students’ conceptions of learning through online discussion, however to the best of our knowledge no studies have been conducted which investigate teachers’ conceptions. This study adopts a phenomenographic approach to reveal teachers’ conceptions of ‘learning through online discussion’. To address the gap in the literature, teachers’ conceptions are reported based on the research question – What does learning through online discussion mean to university teachers?
Fifteen teachers at a large research-intensive metropolitan Australian university were asked about their experiences with ‘learning through online discussion’ in semi-structured interviews. The interview transcripts were systematically analysed using a phenomenographic approach to reveal four qualitatively different categories of conception.
1. Learning through online discussion as a way to provide time and access
2. Learning through online discussion as a way to engage learners
3. Learning through online discussion as a way to foster a community of learners
4. Learning through online discussion as a way to enable higher-order cognition and learning
The findings of this study contribute to knowledge by building on research into teachers’ conceptions of e-learning and learning technologies, and complementing research into students’ conceptions of learning through online discussion. There are implications for teachers, educational designers, academic developers and all those involved with the enhancement of student engagement, learning experiences and outcomes in higher education. Specifically, the findings will inform designers of professional development courses for university teachers to learn about effective use of online discussion for learning.