The quest for authenticity: A study of an online discussion forum and the needs of adult learners

Author: Jenny McDougall, Central Queensland University

Edition: Volume 55, Number 1, April 2015

Summary:  The objective of achieving a sense of ‘authenticity’ in an educational context is one that might have immediate appeal, though how this is defined, let alone achieved, remains contested. The concept of ‘authentic
discussion’ has traditionally been used in the context of classroom English teaching in schools, but this paper explores its possible application to an online discussion forum at university. Participants in this forum were students in a program designed to prepare adult learners for higher education. Though communication in an online environment differs from face-to-face dialogue, it was found not to be a barrier to ‘authenticity’ in some respects. Multiple perspectives were evident with students building on the ideas of each other, but also being prepared to disagree. The level of support and respect was such that they were willing to tackle sensitive issues, and share in an honest and sometimes revealing way. The role of the lecturer emerged as a critical component in achieving such outcomes. Though claims of ‘authenticity’ are always difficult to substantiate, this study concludes that elements
of an ‘authentic discussion’ can be achieved in an online environment and this objective has a particular salience in the context of adult learning.

Keywords: authentic discussion, adult learning, online learning, critical thinking, enabling education


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This article is part of AJAL, Volume 55_1. The entire volume is available in .pdf for purchase here.

Posted in ACE, Higher Education, Refereed article