Landing : Athabascau University

In defense of LPP and lurking

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By Glenn Groulx December 10, 2010 - 11:15am Comments (1)

This is a response to the blog post about legitimate peripheral participation posted by George Siemens.

George Siemens writes eloquently on the topic of legitimate peripheral participation, arguing that is negative and detrimental to the development of PLNs as it encourages a self-centeredness in learners, who lurk without creating, collaborating or sharing with others and can be described as takers. He is strongly opposed to the notion of pursuing a lurking strategy when the viability of learning networks depend upon a gift economy in which learners openly share and contribute ideas with others. He explains that learning networks we contribute to and maintain empower us to engage others and make a social impact. Once the sharing stops, the network collapses. Thus, his argument that we need to set clear expectations about participation and sharing with learners.

I agree on many levels with what George is saying. However, intuitively, I sense there is more to this. I think that in fact there are legitimate reasons for lurking that go far beyond self-interest. Lurking does not always involve taking, as George asserts. Lurking assumes that visitors come, read, and leave without further action. Does that ever actually really ever happen? I wonder. Sometimes these lurkers write down the link, copy and paste the post, and refer to it later in some paper or presentation somewhere, sometime down the line. Sometimes they return to it several times, just to take it in, to read, to tease out the nuances, to make more sense of it.

Sometimes the "lurkers are just passing through. There are times when visitors view a page, scan it, evaluate it, and realize that it is not what they are looking for. They are exploring sites, content, posts, and scanning for speciifc content. Active searches and explorations are a large element of the "lurking" activity.

I think that George is not really referring to the visitor that sifts through data swiftly before moving on, and I don't think he is referring to visitors that review the content repeatedly over time without actively sharing it with others. I mean, so many of our learning events occur in solitude, after reading someone else's ideas. That we don't necessarily have someone to share it with, or we don't post it up and share it with others, doesn't mean it is lurking.

I think he is referring to the type of learner who withholds oneself from the discussion, but who is interested in the exchange, who does download, read, and think about the ideas presented, but is holding back, reluctant to enter the arena of ideas. But I don't think this is taking, as he describes it.

I think maybe he is referring to how some learners think of taking from others entirely in a narcissistic sense, judging and evaluating and sifting and consuming others' ideas, and view their PLN in terms of what it can do for them. George does mention he has some push=back for this kind of attitude among participants. But how can you ever really be sure this is their attitude, however? If we respond within a network with the assumption that others are predators and acting as information parasites, one's own openness will cease. One's own perception of others' intentions will be warped, and you will be a lot less willing to share, killing off the network altogether.

George explains that the learner who openly shares their drafts are contributing to the learning of others. Though I agree wholeheartedly with this aim, I also suggest that we must be cautious about expecting students to share and disclose their thoughts with others when not yet ready to do so (for whatever reasons they might be).

Rather than perceive the learners' reticence as a negative, educators need to recognize that the reticence is because of the way the drafting process, the act of sharing, is tied intricately in with a learner's sense of identity. In an earlier post I refereed to Norm Taylor's presentation about the different selves we present and balance. Lurking, based on a practical standpoint, is a negative. Sure, granted. But not everyone is ready and willing and in a spiritual space to share openly with others. What they have to say needs to be said in a private space, not an open one. How they learn can be so tied in with personal experiences (experiential self) it is a bit overwhelming to read a post from a fellow peer about how their assignment has been keeping them up late and anxious, and how it is triggering emotional distress. Are we asking our learners to openly reveal these events to their peers? Don't think so. But these emotional loads are what halt open participation, open sharing. It is what keeps some learners from sharing their learning with peers they had never met before.

What I am saying is that learners are a heck of a lot more complex, and we cannot simply attribute learners lurking activities to a selfish with-holding of their ideas from others, to a negative holding out on others because they are simply takers. Not all lurking activity can and should be attributed to parasitism and predation.


  • Thank you Christine for dropping me a note, and letting me know your initial impressions. I am always interested in taking another perspective on how students approach actively blogging in the open.

    An even more signififcant question is: what would you feel needs to be done to have you become more comfortable with contributing?


    Glenn Groulx December 11, 2010 - 3:57pm

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