Inspired by the journal article Online Discussion Forums in Higher Education: Is ‘Lurking’ Working?, International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education Mazuro and Rao (2011), I will take a quick look at the benefits of lurking online.
You can lurk and learn. Non participation does not equal not learning, according to the findings of Mazuro and Rae analysing online forum engagement and learning.
Translated to your social media use, you don’t need to post daily – or at all – to benefit from the shared knowledge of a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
Lurking brings to mind an unsavoury overcoated stranger in an alleyway. However, the official definition of lurker is innocent. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a lurker solely in relation to internet behaviour: ‘someone who reads the messages in a chat room without taking part.’
Whilst this definition suggests passivity, it does not mean that learning is not occurring.
A new definition
David White, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Arts in London, has taken the creepy out of lurking by coining a friendlier term to describe lurking for the purpose of learning. ‘Elegant lurking‘ is a preferred term to describe the lurking that occurs in a learning capacity. David believes that, ‘one effective way to learn is to use Social Media un-sociably.’
I’d like to propose the more positive notion of Elegant Lurking. This involves learners following key people in their disciplines (fellow students, ‘thought leaders’ practitioners, academics etc.) within Social Media to tune into the discourses within the subject. David White
Are you a lurker?
You look like one to me. 90% of online users are lurkers according to figures by the Neilson Norman Group. Your online activity could be classed as lurking if you take part in any of these activities:
- read a forum without posting a comment
- catch up with friends’ feeds on Facebook without ‘liking’, commenting, or adding your own updates
- find an answer to a question without leaving a thank you to the forum user who originally left an answer
Some academics are reluctant to engage with platforms such as Twitter for the reasons outlined by digital humanities professor Claire Warwick’s Guardian article The terror of tweeting: social medium or academic message?
However, one elephantine deterrent is the perception that you must post updates regularly. While it is arguably beneficial to engage within the communities that you lurk in – you will gain followers, make new networks in your specialism, build a reputation in the field – you can still gain much from just being there and consuming.
Learn from online learning communities without posting a thing. Follow the people that you are interested in and, once a week in front of the telly or on the train, browse the shared links, resources and comments of your niche network.
As Claire suggests, the delight of communicating your interest with others who are working to the same aim may move you to engage.
To focus our anxiety on the technology is to ignore its function: the simple art of communicating and connecting with other people, and the pleasure of doing so. Claire Warwick
Either way, lurking is no bad thing.
Cath Mazuro, Namrata Rao (2011) Online Discussion Forums in Higher Education: Is ‘Lurking’ Working?, International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education (IJCDSE), Volume 2, Issue 2, June 2011 edn., : Infonomics Society.
The 90-9-1 Rule for Participation Inequality in Social Media and Online Communities.
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