How to create engaging discussion forums for elearning courses

By  Vinny Stocker

Discussion plays an important role in education. It helps students embed their learning, challenges their assumptions, and furthers their knowledge. If you are using an LMS to deliver elearning courses, you should give serious thought to adding discussion forums to facilitate further learning. It’s also a great opportunity to get feedback and gauge how well students are responding to your teaching. 

Here are 5 tips on how to create lively and effective forums that students will want to engage with. 

Post topics that resonate

It’s tempting simply to post ‘what do you think?’ type questions for your students. However open-ended questions sometimes disengage students. Much better to pose direct questions that challenge them to take different viewpoints. Another idea is to get them to imagine a future scenario or anticipate what might happen next. Students love to use their imagination and offer alternative ideas, so incorporate that into the discussion topic and you’re onto a winner.

Create a lively dialogue between students and teachers

It may seem like an easy ride to fire off a discussion and leave the students to it. This may work with highly motivated and intelligent students, but it’s better if the teacher helps guide the discussion and responds to their students’ ideas, just as you would in class. 

Sometimes, it helps to structure a discussion, so that as many students get a chance to respond as possible. For example, you could ask 3 or 4 students to present different aspects of a problem, then the other students respond to those. Or divide the class into supporting two different viewpoints and then argue it out. You could even task the students to create the topics themselves. 

The teacher should be available to jump in if the discussion gets too heated. However, if you set it up well with simple rules, these discussions will flow nicely without much input.  

Consider getting students to rate posts, ideas, and discussion, possibly by using the Bloom’s taxonomy method.

Use a variety of content in your elearning discussion forums

These days, we don’t need to limit forum posts to text and images. Most students have a smartphone and can easily create a video of themselves articulating a point of view. They can also create presentations, PDFs and infographics, so make sure you encourage this kind of creativity. Students tend to enjoy variety too. 

The same goes for posting the discussion starter. Get students to respond to different media, depending on what is most appropriate.

Link discussion forums closely to class work

Discussion forums for elearning are most effective when the topics are linked directly to what students are learning on your courses. You can even provide links to the forum at various points in your materials to get students to respond and discuss their learning.

If you deliver virtual classes in your elearning program, you can use a forum to continue discussions if you run out of time. You might also consider using the forum to assess students’ understanding of the topic.

Share news, opinions and suggestions

Students are more likely to engage in discussion forums if you create a sense of community. Make your forum like the archetypal town square, where people can share news (related to their studies), exchange opinions, and offer suggestions for new topics or improvements.

There are plenty more ways to create forums that fizz with ideas and debate. If you need help setting up discussion forums for elearning on your LMS, contact us today. 

Vinny Stocker

Vinny leads the Malaysian team. He's a published author, instructional designer, and Moodle consultant at Pukunui. Vinny also runs LMS training throughout South East Asia.

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