In Support of Those Who Lurk

A Party of Lurkers
So, even though I wrote a post yesterday that said I was gonna lurk, you can see how I easily get pulled into the mix. Just writing the post itself, as Howard noted in a comment, meant that I was no longer lurking with the Connected Courses, and the whole shebang hasn’t even started yet.

One of the ideas that we really talked about and worked hard to value during the facilitation of the Making Learning Connected MOOC was how to best recognize and include those who were not ready to jump into the fray, but who either only wanted to watch or needed time to process before considering entry into the CLMOOC. As you might imagine, this stance of inclusion is made trickier by the invisible threads that connect participants to an online project. You just don’t know who is there, watching, if they never comment or participate. And if it is not a credit course where posting is required (the CLMOOC was not that), then it becomes even more of a challenge to understand the nature of participation.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, learning along with everyone.

We found that out in the time between our first year of CLMOOC and the second, when we heard later stories of folks who lurked, brought ideas to the classroom or professional spaces, and then came back strong in the second year as active participants, grateful for the ongoing message of valuing those who lurk to learn. Others were a bit wary of the technology hurdles and needed time to process, to tinker on their own. And others just had little bits of time, so they popped in and out to see what was going on, but never participated. Not everyone is comfortable with learning in open spaces.

This sort of goes against the grain of basic teaching philosophy, right? No child left behind? We assume everyone needs to be learning and we need to gauge that the learning is being done. In online spaces, we often do that by tracking comments and blog posts and Twitter feeds. You can’t look across the room and see that someone is not participating and tell yourself and/or them, I’m going to call on you next, kid, so be ready with some ideas.

We don’t allow lurkers in our classrooms, do we?

Yet, lurkers are the invisible army in just about every online space there is, and they are the folks we don’t often value enough. There’s no cultural cache for the quiet, is there? That doesn’t mean they aren’t important. With CLMOOC, we made sure every newsletter had references to how we valued those who were just watching and learning. Posts in our online communities were purposefully welcoming to all comers, even those who were only passing through. This message (hats off to Joe Dillon for his work on this issue) became part of the ethos of the CLMOOC, even though at times it felt as if we were writing to no one (Most lurkers don’t respond when you write to them, as is the nature of lurking.)

But they are there, and they are important to the network, and they need to be part of the conversation, even if the conversation can often feels one-sided. And sometimes, they party on. Thus, my comic.

Peace (in the outer worlds),

  1. If you want a physics analogy (and who wouldn’t) lurkers are the dark matter and the dark energy of the Internet. Without them, the tiny percentage who do actively participate would have no context. Of course, we can only see the darkish stuff occasionally and only indirectly then, but it is still there.

    I found a really obscure defintion in the OED: 1825 Encycl. Lond. XX. 435/1 [In pilchard fishing] the third boat is called the lurker, and carries three or four men.    1880 W. Cornwall Gloss., Lurker, a boat in which the master seiner sits to give instructions.  

    By that definition our lurkers are really the masters on the third boat. Perhaps this is an obscure pirate reference? I think you have every right to your silence. You are just going to have be aggressively silent in the face of facilitator attack. Or maybe you will just have to raise the skull and crossbones up the jolly ol’ yardarm.

    • Back on the boat …. and I agree: we have a right to be silent in open learning spaces. We also have the right to be acknowledged that we are participating on our own level. Or something like that.

  2. Kevin, Terry-

    Love these comments about the ever presence and significance of those who lurk (and learn). I think a key aspect of whether a cMOOC community becomes truly emboldened is the general validation of the lurk. We need to build a culture of guilt-free participation. (i.e. People should know that is ok to dip in and out of the experience because it is a dynamic, ever unfolding phenomenon, and each perspective brings new energy…. it is indeed OPEN).

    What a relief to know that even though you missed a couple weeks (or you never heard about CC until mid-October) you can still jump in and your participation is welcome. What a relief to know that even though you weren’t able to “make” for several weeks, you are still a valued member of the community of co-learners.

    The validation of the lurk matters in a truly OPEN community. And as academics and educators we have been pummeled for years by the hidden curriculum (evaluations, deadlines, tests, prescribed outcomes). One result of this is the easily-come-by guilt. (“I should have blogged last week, I should have read that already, ….should’ve, could’ve, would’ve….).

    Let’s drop the guilt instinct, and just learn by self-design (interest-driven lurking is the foundation!). What “open” truly means is that YOU are the true center of the learning.

  3. What an interesting thought! I’ve started a local cohort at my institution to work through Connected Courses together. The point of the group is to use our existing relationships as a means of support through the course. Thanks for the reminder to respect my colleagues’ right to lurk.

    • It maybe be interesting to see if folks in a local cohort, who know each other, feel comfortable in the lurking mode, or will they feel (real or not) pressure to contribute and participate? You shift one dynamic and it plays out like dominoes, in unexpected way. Some grad student is probably studying this as we speak (eh, write)

      • I’m interested in that too. Will people be more willing to try blogging or Twitter or video when they know the first comment will be something supportive from someone they know face-to-face? What I see currently suggests the opposite – people are looking at our local event as the “real” thing and haven’t really engaged with the online course yet. This is where your point comes in – if they want to lurk online and talk face-to-face about Connected Courses every couple of weeks, well, that’s good enough!

  4. I’m starting to wonder if lurking is part of a larger process…what role does it play in helping a person feel comfortable with the use of social media (especially if s/he is first using it as an adult learner) and experiencing the norms of a group? What role does it play in a move towards openness?

    I remember thinking about this when reading Mariana Funes’ story of her journey towards being an “open sharer” ( She brings up several good points that address the inner barriers that academics may face and strategies for overcoming those barriers.

    • I think recognizing that it may be a struggle for some, and finding a means to validate those feelings, goes a long way for a lot of people. They don’t want to feel left out but they are not ready for the public entry point. So, from a facilitation standpoint, it is important to have all of those folks in your mind as you plan and reflect and invite.

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