January 8, 2011
social learning

Lurking is Learning (Part 1 of 2)

To those that have questioned whether all online participants must actively contribute to a blog, wiki, etc. in order to actually learn, I say bunkum. Hogwash. Claptrap. Bollocks.

Learning is a process. Learning is different to all of us. Approaches to how we as individuals learn is unique and for those critics and pundits ‘out there’ who continue to perpetuate the myth that unless one is contributing back, one isn’t learning, well simply put … I have a problem with you.

As I see it, as we continue to proliferate the ways in which we can in fact contribute and/or collaborate, we will be forced to make ‘learning style’ related decisions on when we have the time and capacity to contribute and/or collaborate versus lurking.

Lurking can and should be thought of in better terms. Lurking could be equated to reading, interpreting, synthesizing or augmenting for purposes of gaining further acumen, insight and understanding. It shouldn’t be thought of negatively, per se.

Active participants don’t seem to care about lurkers either. In her 2009 paper entitled Review of Learning 2.0 Practices: Study on the Impact of Web 2.0 Innovations on Education and Training in Europe, Christine Redecker states the following:

“Posters and lurkers join a community for the same reasons. However, posters feel their needs are better met, perceive more benefits and feel a greater sense of membership than lurkers. Partly because posters do not regard lurkers as inferior members, lurking is not necessarily a problem in active communities.”

In essence, Redecker’s analysis indicates that those who join a community and post in fact are gaining greater benefit from the experience, however, active posters do not slight lurkers and consider them a part of the collaboration equation. And lurkers themselves may not get the same sense of membership, perhaps they are there in the first place not to gain additional friends, network numbers or membership, rather content and intellectual acumen only.

Secondly, her analysis backs the 2002 study completed by Michael Beaudoin (Learning or lurking?: Tracking the “invisible” online student) which suggests that better grades correspond to learners who are actively participating in the community versus those that are not. 

But the emphasis and focus is on the direct subject material at hand. What if, for example, I wanted to begin learning about becoming an architect (for which I have no credible knowledge or background in) and I were to begin enrolling into online discussion forums of experts and spouting off as if I knew what I was talking about. I’d flame the community, I’d make a mockery of the group and myself, and I certainly wouldn’t be doing myself any good. Wouldn’t a better first step be to in fact lurk around some of the communities, read up on what an architect is or does, get myself a baseline of knowledge for some period of time … and then make the shift into participating and being an active collaborator?

There are countless other ways in which lurking (or lurkers) can benefit from simply being on the periphery and learning through the process of reading, etc. Think of Twitter or other internal micro-blogging tools, for example, and you have a classic example of lurking. Barracuda Labs, for example, found that 73% of Twitter users have tweeted 10 times or less. That means 27% have tweeted more than 10 times, which to me translates into a lot of lurking by most Twitter users. (because they are not actively posting, only reading what’s going on in the Twitterverse)

You may disagree with me, but lurking is here and we, as leaders, educators and E2.0 practitioners should embrace it.

10 Replies to “Lurking is Learning (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. this is what I’ve seen in practice as well. Lurkers are thought of as people who don’t contribute, but many times that just isn’t true. They may not visibly contribute to an online community, but they talk about the community “offline” and refer new members. Love your lurkers!

  2. Lurking is learning, I’ll give you that.

    But I’m not sure participants don’t care about them. How could we even know they are there? It’s a little like being alone on the dance floor, only here you don’t feel like a fool b/c you can’t see anyone else watching.

    I’d bet that most of the non-Tweeters have completely lost interest and aren’t lurking at all.

    Thought-provoking piece.
    – a non-lurker

  3. @gina – “love your lurkers” — that is awesome!

    @scieditor – fair point – what I meant was that ‘active participants’ aren’t taking umbrage with the fact the ‘lurkers’ are in fact ‘lurking’ – they ‘don’t care’ that they’re lurking, is what I meant

  4. I think it is simple.

    When do you learn more…
    When you are actively listening?
    Actively talking (or preparing to do so)?

  5. Thank you for this post. As a long time lurker, I really appreciate it! I also agree that active participants probably get more out of the experience or maybe they get an additional dimension. As someone who set up her first blog last week, joined twitter a few days ago and tries to become more active on the net in general (participating in a MOOC), I notice that my difficulties with all that are mostly “psychological” – not technical or with regards to content. By putting stuff of myself out there and by that inviting people to read and comment, by commenting myself, by twittering and so on I relate to people, it’s about communication, ultimately it’s about myself. Maybe that’s banal, but up to now, I used the Internet in it’s many forms mostly to collect information and my communication channels were elsewhere. I did use email of course, but that’s different. I just wondered whether anybody’s thought or written about that “psychological dimension” of Internet communication? Or is it just me? But it usually never is…

  6. Thank you for that link, Dan. I’ve read the article and it is indeed interesting. It doesn’t really help though on a practical level. But never mind – I just have to go for it and do it!

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