Social conversation and effective discussion in online group learning

Fei Ching Chen, Thomas C. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This paper studies the social talk of high school students in online discussion forums. On-task talk has generally been assessed as valuable discussion because it contributes directly to productive learning. Off-task conversation, on the other hand, is often regarded as useless and a waste of time. Should this social talk indeed be regarded as an off-task activity? Is social talk such as greeting, excusing, comforting and sharing personal feelings irrelevant to learning? This study analyzes threads and argues that social talk is interwoven with on-task talk. It is interesting to note that a substantial quantity of off-task messages served the latent function of guiding group discussion toward making progress in solving collaborative problems in a subtle and indirect manner. The power of "soft talk" embedded in off-task social conversation is explored and fully discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-612
Number of pages26
JournalEducational Technology Research and Development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Effective discussions
  • Negotiation
  • Participation
  • Social talk
  • Soft power


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