The Effect of Online Discussion Board Frequency on Student Performance in Adult Learners

January 7, 2018

Classroom discussion boards are a vital part of the online educational experience, providing a venue for peer to peer and student to faculty interactions.  However, institutional feedback from students at a large open enrollment university has shown that excess focus on online discussions may lead to fatigue, resulting in lower student satisfaction, and in turn, performance.  As such, researchers hypothesized that a reduction from two to one required weekly discussions by program administrators would improve student grade point average (GPA), withdraw rate, fail rate, and progression.  Using a variety of revision techniques, program administrators revised seven courses over multiple disciplines to reduce required discussion interaction from two to one discussion per week.  Resulting data from over 900 students showed that across all courses, no significant differences were seen in average GPA, fail rate, and progression between experimental and control groups (p > 0.47).  However, a trend was observed for decreased withdraw rates as courses shifted from two weekly discussions (9.6%) to one (7.2%) (p = 0.19).  The method of course revision appeared to effect the GPA and fail rate across some individual courses.  Combining two discussions into one larger discussion and pooling assessment points seemed to have negative impacts on withdraw rates and fail rates, while shorter discussions with lower point values were correlated with increased achievement.  Based on the study, it appears that adult learners in online courses prefer one weekly discussion over two as illustrated by the decreased withdraw rate in experimental groups.  Additionally, students show improved performance with greater assessment weight focused on assignments over discussions.  Results suggest that program administrators and faculty might benefit from structuring programs focused on adult online learners with one minimally weighted discussion board per week.

Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration