MBA Lurking

lurker_mesh_hat-rb91422f29b1944eab88cc0db68789a97_v9wfy_8byvr_324Most of us are aware of the concept of online lurking – people reading messages sent to an online forum or discussion group without contributing, but what do you know about MBA lurking?

What is MBA Lurking?

MBA lurking is what a subset of MBA students do while enrolled in an MBA program. MBA student lurkers are the nonparticipants. They rarely take part in class, team, or online discussions and they seldom provide meaningful feedback when ask to do so. They fill a seat and use program resources while contributing little, if anything, to the learning of others.

MBA Lurking – Online and In Class

As a blogger, I see evidence of online lurking on a regular basis. For example, I provide MyeEMBA readers a way to comment on posted articles. Commenting requires that the reader write something in a comment box. During the first six months of this year, with almost 6,000 page views, only 11 different people posted 13 comments. While this may not be conclusive evidence of lurking, it does indicate that most MyeEMBA readers are not willing to share their thoughts or make comments after reading posted articles.

On the other hand, lurking is more than an online issue. A comment on last month’s MyeEMBA article, “Independent Learner Skills May Be Critical to an MBA’s Success,” reminded me that lurking is also an issue in MBA classes. Mike, a part-time MBA student at Georgia Tech, commented via MBA Focus, a LinkedIn discussion group, that many of his classmates are “content to earn their grades and not do anything else.” While Mike’s comment related to independent learning skills, I believe the lurking behavior of his classmates is what led him to this conclusion.

MBA Lurking and Collaborative Learning

MBA lurking behavior is particularly troublesome in a collaborative learning environment because this behavior adversely affects both the lurker and the lurker’s class peers. From the lurker’s standpoint, nonparticipation reduces the opportunities for networking, demonstrating one’s knowledge and engagement in the learning process – all of which can adversely affect program and career performance. From a peer perspective, lurkers are not sharing their knowledge and experiences, so MBA classmates do not have access to some potentially valuable learning resources. Overall, this situation yields a suboptimal learning experience for the program’s participants. The adverse impact is even more significant when a large number of lurkers are in a class or there is no effort by faculty members or class peers to manage lurker behaviors.

MBA Lurkers – Who and Why

Identifying an MBA lurker is much easier than changing the lurker’s behavior. MBA students who are persistent nonparticipants are what I am calling MBA lurkers. Changing their behavior requires some knowledge of the cause. Some of the causes may include: laziness, personality type, insecurity, lack of interest in the subject matter, lack of preparation and lack of risk taking, to mention a few. Understanding some of the causes can help when faculty members or students try addressing such behaviors.

Addressing MBA Lurker Behavior

Most MBA faculty members are aware of the MBA lurker concept, although they may not refer to it as such. They often design their courses, assignments and grading to address lurker behaviors. Some of their efforts include making class participation part of the grade, calling on students during class discussions, using peer feedback for developmental purposes, and individual counseling. The success of these efforts often depends on class size, the number of lurkers and the determination of the faculty member.

In a collaborative educational environment, most students expect to learn from each other and to contribute to the learning of others. In this environment, MBA lurkers are behaving unfairly toward their peers because they are giving them something less than they deserve or expect, which is the sharing of knowledge and experiences. Minimizing the impact of lurkers requires a concentrated effort on the part of both faculty and students. While it is not always possible for MBA students to affect the behavior of other MBA students, it is possible to address the issue of lurking with feedback and engagement.

  • Feedback – Constructive or developmental peer feedback is a powerful tool when done well. Since most MBA programs provide their students with the opportunity to give peer feedback, MBA students can address the nonparticipation behaviors of classmates by referencing the undesirable behavior when providing feedback. In programs where feedback opportunities are not available, individual teams or workgroups can adopt their own feedback system. In either case, the feedback should focus on the behavior and its impact and not on the individual.
  • Engagement – Periodically engaging the lurkers in conversation or asking questions of them can be a way of addressing nonparticipation behaviors. Doing so can be a way of getting the lurker to participate.

Remember that lurkers are not keeping up their end of the implied learning contract. They are adding little or no value to your learning. By addressing their behavior, learning can improve for everyone involved in the MBA program. Moreover, since you will likely deal with lurking behavior throughout your career, learning how to deal with lurkers, whether in the classroom or the workplace, is an important skill to develop.

Is MBA lurking an issue? Do you have suggestions about how to deal with lurkers? Please share your thoughts by adding a comment below.


About the Author: Dr. Rodney Alsup is the creator of the MyeEMBA blog. His goal is to help MBA students live and work smarter while they earn their MBA.

Image from the Zazzle online store.

7 comments for “MBA Lurking

  1. Will
    September 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Its funny you posted these, because I do pay attention to this during class. In our current cohort, I think only 1 person didn’t say anything over the past two weeks worth of classes. So while it happens, at least so far it is an extreme minority in our class.


    • November 24, 2013 at 6:09 am

      Paying attention the way you have means to me that you are aware of your situation, surroundings, etc. This is a good thing and I think it will pay off down the road. Hopefully, your class mates will continue to be engaged and contribute to your learning. Thanks for taking the time to read the article and for making a comment.

  2. Kevin
    September 2, 2013 at 9:06 am

    While everyone can contribute I think a lurker can also be determined by the quality of the response they give. There were more than a few leakers in my cohort. I was as guilty as the others in tolerating the behavior. As a result we did not maximize our learning experience as we should have. This is a lesson I have also taken to the workplace and have started identifying the lurkers at work.

  3. Dennis Brown
    September 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Great article that brings out a cultural phenomenon in our country…expecting something for nothing…and often being rewarded by just that! Hopefully we can reverse this trend before it is too late!

  4. Olu
    September 4, 2013 at 6:34 am

    I read this article with interest. I value the point your blog is addressing. However, your statement, “…non-participation reduces the opportunities for networking, demonstrating one’s knowledge and engagement in the learning process” makes me feel you have dealt with the issue inside out. You ask why? Well because I am almost 100% sure that a good majority of those lurkers in the classroom will be the type that are not very incentivised by the proposition you offer – not directly anyway.

    An MBA is no small cost so, aside from those who might have got it for free, why would anyone pay so much money to just be a bystander or a nonparticipant? Of all the courses in education, I think the MBA is the one course that ought to be able to address such an issue, especially as so much of it is about management, engagement, personal impact and leadership.

    The following is my initial thought on the matter, albeit a little disjointed but I hope you will catch my argument and drift.

    In terms of blogging I am probably a good fit for your lurker concept. So a good question is: What is it about this blog that has caused me to suddenly change my behaviour? Or perhaps the better question is, have I changed my behaviour at all? Maybe my behaviour is consistent but my output is more tangible this time. Also, 11 responses out of 6000 views is quite a statistic. Could it be that the blogging world has managed to amplify the situation that you have observed in the classroom? If so, what is it?

    At the beginning of this article you have what I would describe as a symptom of problems: ‘nonparticipant’, ‘they fill a seat’, ‘not wiling to share thoughts’ etc. My wife is a pharmacist and I learnt a valuable lesson from her about some medicines – they merely treat symptoms not cause and this is what I think you article is doing. Having said that I think the middle section of your article is nearer the point because it looks at the why.

    Surprisingly enough, I think the answer to the problem is already in the article “Engagement”, but not through the method and means that you have illustrated. The point to the quiet person for an answer method is workable but it’s so often done with sterility and often feels like tick-boxing rather than a genuine effort to engage.

    Your blogging phenomena follows suit. People read the blogs but probably have no sense of involvement or engagement with your site so they read and go. They probably wouldn’t leave a comment unless they find something overtly wrong, outrageous, have a strong opinion on the subject you are writing, or alas, if they genuinely feel they have been given a space to contribute and it might be heard – I think that is still classed under engagement.

    In a nutshell, your blog is a bit of a paradox. It starts with a premise that focusses on a slightly isolated and, forgive me for saying so, selfish view of things – lurkers are affecting the quality of MBA programmes, they are not adding knowledge etc. But at the same time it is also very inviting and offers space for contribution and sharing. Such mannerism is very often missing in the classroom. It’s a combination of student profiles and course content and class/team spirit.

    This is my hypotheses.

  5. Tyrone Thorpe
    September 4, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I’m glad I didn’t lurk as much as I could have. I took part in my team’s learning and my own learning and growing 90% of the time.

  6. November 17, 2013 at 2:38 am

    Hi, great article, thank you. in fact we have just started a discussion on our (almost) brand new MBAPathway LinkedIn group for students who are doing the MBA here in Australasia. So, brilliant timing. I will add this posts link on to our group page as well, cheers, Claire

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