How to encourage and facilitate online discussions with Moodle forums

The Moodle Academy team shares tips to encourage meaningful discussions online, get learner engagement and get the most out of the Moodle forums

Forums, or electronic bulletin boards, are a communication tool that allows participants to interact with each other and exchange knowledge. This is particularly significant in online environments, where interaction with peers must be actively facilitated. When it comes to online education, forums are one of the most important and equitable communication tools for the development of learning, as they are asynchronous, support UDL practices and social learning by through peer review and support.

As an asynchronous tool, forums allow learners to communicate with each other anytime, from anywhere with an internet connection. They don’t need to be connected at the same time to communicate with each other which means they can take a long time to compose a response and it allows those who are unwilling or unable to speak in an environment of live class to participate in discussion with their peers and share learnings.

In Moodle LMS, the Forum activity is one of the most used tools for collaborative learning, and its many options give educators the flexibility to design their courses to teach however they want. Let’s take a closer look at the Moodle forums and see how to get the most out of them.

Types of Moodle forums

There are many types of forums to choose from in Moodle LMS; the type of forum you choose to set up will depend on your educational goals for the discussion. Let’s see what each type of Moodle forum is for:

  • Standard forum for general use. This is an open forum where anyone can post a new topic at any time, as well as reply to any discussion. This is the best generalist forum.
  • Simple and unique discussion: a single discussion topic that everyone can respond to. This forum is useful in helping learners to focus and stay on topic, responding only to the opening message.
  • Each person posts a discussion: Each participant can post exactly one new discussion topic, which anyone can then reply to. This allows learners to take ownership of their discussion post and is very useful for a peer review task, where learners can share their work in the discussion they are starting and then ask peers to respond to it. It’s also a great forum for getting learners to introduce themselves to the class.
  • Q&A Forum: with this type of forum, learners must post a message before seeing the posts of other students. This is very useful in encouraging learners to post their own views rather than repeating or copying what others have said. Because it requires original submissions, the Moodle Q&A Forum can be used for assessment.
  • Standard forum displayed in a blog-like format: it works like the standard forum for general use, but only the opening discussion in the forum is displayed to ensure users read it. Then they can respond by clicking on a “Discuss this topic” button.

Strategies to Promote and Facilitate Online Discussions

Creating meaningful engagement and interactions in an online environment is very different from doing it in a face-to-face environment. When it comes to involving learners in online discussions, there are strategies you can implement to make sure everyone is participating.

  • Create a safe environment: Make learners aware of the forum code of conduct in your course or, to gain greater engagement, have them agree to the terms and co-write it. Ensuring a safe environment for all will encourage participation. Periodically monitor the forums – or give moderation skills to another user – to make sure no one is breaking the code of conduct. You can see a sample forum code of conduct on our Moodle community forums.
  • Feed the debate: If the conversation loses momentum, you can encourage it to continue, or to be more in-depth, by using questions that make learners think and come back to you with more in-depth answers, such as “What are you thinking … ? ” Why do you think… ? “,” What would happen if …? or “What is your experience of …?” “. These questions are also useful for opening the discussion.
  • Using reviews to encourage participation: Associating a grade with a reply to a discussion is a very easy way to engage learners in forums, whether you as the teacher grade the contributions, or you allow students to rate other people’s posts (in this case, providing a rubric or scoring guide is always a good idea).
  • Gamify participation with badges: issuing a badge when learners respond to a forum can prompt them to do so. However, it should be used with caution, as it might cause some to respond just to get a badge.
  • share your opinion: let learners know if the discussion is going in the right direction; this can encourage those who still haven’t participated to post a response. If there is something learners can improve, you can use the “sandwich method” where you say something positive, then something to improve, then end with something positive.
  • Stay on topic: In online discussions, especially if the interaction is high, it is normal for participants to stray from the topic. You can get participants to bring the conversation back to the topic by saying things like “back to…” or “back to the original topic”… However, if the discussion has completely derailed, Moodle has an option that allows you to split the forum and create a new discussion starting with a message of your choice.

This content was taken from the “Take advantage of the Moodle Forums” webinar, hosted by Mary Cooch, Moodle Education Manager, on August 25th. the registration and associated course are available on Moodle Academy.

If you are interested in participating in upcoming webinars and being part of our community of best practices and continuing professional development, Register at Moodle Academy, the learning center for the global Moodle community

Harry L. Blanchard