Theses Doctoral

Goal Introduction in Online Discussion Forums: An Activity Systems Analysis

Dashew, Brian Leigh

Self-direction is the process by which individuals collaborate in the construction of meaningful learning objectives and use internal and external controls to meet those objectives. In professional contexts, self-direction is seen as an increasingly important skill for engagement in complex organizations and industries. Modern innovations in program development for adult learners, therefore, should address learners’ needs for self-motivation, self-monitoring, and self-management. Social learning contexts—such as online class discussion forums—have emerged as potentially democratic spaces in online learning. Yet evaluation methods for assessing online discussion have not considered the ways in which student-introduced goals influence how quality is operationalized and studied.
This research attempted to understand if, when, and how adult learners leverage online course discussions as a space to introduce and moderate their own learning and professional goals. The study used activity systems analysis as a framework for assessing self-direction within a complex social learning environment. A sample drawn from three sections of an online Research Design course was observed, surveyed, and interviewed to develop a visual map and narrative description of their perceptions of a discussion activity system.
A cross-case analysis of these maps was used to define five systemic tensions that prevented students from aligning their goals with the instructor-designed activities. When faced with these tensions, students either subjugated their own goals to an instructor’s explicit goals, or else introduced one of eight mediating behaviors associated with self-directed learning. The study yielded five emergent hypotheses that require further investigation: (1) that self-directed learning is not inherent, even among Millennial learners, (2) that self-directed learning is collaborative, (3) that goals for interaction in social learning environments are not universal, (4) that goals must be negotiated, explicit, and activity bound, and (5) that self-directed learning may be not be an observable phenomenon.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Marsick, Victoria J.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 10, 2018