Reading: Lurkers as invisible learners

I’ve always been annoyed at being called a ‘lurker’, it’s a term that has a different meaning for me when talking about the engagement, or not, of students in an online class – read my post ‘Listener or Lurker?’ from 2013. In this instance the paper ‘Learners on the Periphery: Lurkers as Invisible Learners‘, by Sarah Honeychurch and colleagues, defines as a ‘lurker’ or ‘silent learner’ or ‘legitimate peripheral participant’ as.

“… hard to track in a course because of their near invisibility. We decided to address this issue and to examine the perceptions that lurkers have of their behaviour by looking at one specific online learning course: CLMOOC. In order to do this, we used a mixed methods approach and collected our data via social network analysis, online questionnaires, and observations, including definitions from the lurkers of what they thought lurking was … [our] research findings revealed that lurking is a complex behaviour, or set of behaviours, and there isn’t one sole reason why lurkers act the ways that they do in their respective communities. We concluded that for a more participatory community the more active, experienced or visible community members could develop strategies to encourage lurkers to become more active and to make the journey from the periphery to the core of the community.”

I’m far more comfortable with the terms used here, and reasons why students don’t engage perhaps how we’d like them to, or indeed in the way we design the course. We need to accept and address that not everyone taking online learning, whether it’s a free MOOC, paid-for CPD course or fully online degree, wants to be social, vocal, or indeed visible in the online environment. We can provide the base materials and ask the students to go off and read around the subjects, we can offer opportunities to engage and ‘test’ themselves on different types of course activities. The only way we know the students are engaging in the subject and materials is usually if we assign marks or grades to the activities, especially if those marks carry weight on the course’s final grade.


Honeychurch, S., Bozkurt, A., Singh, L, and Koutropoulos, A. (2017). Learners on the Periphery: Lurkers as Invisible Learners. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2017].