A fascinating study caught my eye a few months back. Titled “Interaction in Online Courses: More is NOT Always Better,” lead with a startling abstract, which has significant policy implications:
“Cognitive theory suggests more interaction in learning environments leads to improved learning outcomes and increased student satisfaction… key findings indicate that increased levels of interaction, as measured by time spent, actually decrease course completion rates. This result is counter to prevailing curriculum design theory and suggests increased interaction may actually diminish desired program reputation and growth.”
The authors offer three explanations for why this could be.
First, it is consistent with other findings that the more discussions students have to pay attention to, the less satisfied they were with the learning environment.
Second, when one is a novice in a field, you have limited working memory about the topic. This means there is little space to do hard, unfamiliar work. It’s quite possible that working with others, especially those who are unfamiliar, takes up its own working memory load, which would squeeze out one’s ability to focus on the skills one is trying to master.