Research Output
Investigation of the applicability of the SOLO taxonomy in the qualitative content analysis of asynchronous online discussion.
  Despite a growing research base in support of higher order thinking processes fostered in asynchronous online dialogue, the research community seems far from a consensus that would unequivocally anchor a higher level of understanding with asynchronous communications technology. Transcripts of online discussion messages provide rich sources of data about a range of communicative issues. Content analysis to date has seen protocols emerge for rate of interaction, critical thinking, collaboration and tutor presence, for example.
The research presented here focuses on depth of understanding as mapped against the SOLO (Structure of the observed learning outcome) taxonomy by Biggs and Collis (1982) which stands out as a content analysis tool as it focuses on structural complexity of text rather than subject specific, manifest content. The taxonomy’s five levels offer a continuum from surface to increasingly deep understanding against which written responses are mapped. A previously published small-scale study in which SOLO was successfully applied in the qualitative content analysis of online discussion transcripts of an environmental science distance education course (Brown, Smyth & Mainka, 2006) prompted the more comprehensive main investigation reported here.
The SOLO framework was applied to a representative set of data constituting student responses in three constructively aligned, undergraduate physical science distance education courses. It has proven to be a robust, replicable and reliable online content analysis tool in a modified format created to include interactive levels that takes account of peer-peer and peer-tutor discourse. A simple coding protocol has been designed for reuse and further development by researchers and practitioners. In an extended outcome, the significance of formal collaborative opportunities in fully online distance education course design was linked to deeper levels of understanding in the asynchronous discussion which is seen to confirm the role of online collaboration for high quality learning in the distance education context.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    31 December 2010

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2361 Curriculum

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education

  • Funders:

    Department of Academic Practice


Mainka, C. Investigation of the applicability of the SOLO taxonomy in the qualitative content analysis of asynchronous online discussion. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



asynchronous online dialogue; communications technology; content analysis; SOLO (Structure of the observed learning outcome) taxonomy; distance learning;

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