Reconceptualizing discussion forums as spaces for active learning | Teachers College Press

By: Linda Dale Bloomberg

Linda Dale Bloomberg serves as Associate Director of Faculty Support and Development and Full Professor at the School of Education at Northcentral University in San Diego. Dr Bloomberg received her PhD in 2006 from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed the AEGIS Program in Adult and Organizational Learning. His new book is called Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners.


Last year I published a blog series for SAGE publications to address strategies for successful online education. In my new book, Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage Adult Learners, I offer multiple opportunities to foster collaborative learning as a way for learners to work together on homework or tasks, to build knowledge collectively, to think critically and to support each other. Interaction within online educational environments has long been advocated as promoting engagement and learning. Interaction also creates a more positive sense of community in online courses, and community building serves to combat isolation and, in turn, creates a sense of ongoing connection and engagement. Recommendations for online learner engagement include creating interactive opportunities (a) between instructors and learners, (b) between learners (teamwork, collaborations), and (c) between learners and learners. course content.

As I write in my book,

Learning is derived from the interactions between learners, instructors and learners, and learning spaces and tools. While online models can support some of these interactions, they only scratch the surface when it comes to delivering diverse, rich, and multimodal educational experiences. This responsibility ultimately rests with the instructor, and it can be accomplished through the skillful use and application of collaborative tools (Bloomberg, 2021, p. 58).

Discussion forums, both synchronous (real-time discussion) and asynchronous (discussion boards) are key collaboration tools that are used in online courses to stimulate and maintain student engagement. Asynchronous discussion, in particular, is increasingly becoming an important communication tool in online education, as it allows learners to participate at times that are convenient for them. Asynchronous discussion forums are commonly used by online course instructors to allow students to reflect on course content and demonstrate understanding, while also responding and interacting with their peers and / or instructors regarding the content. One of the challenges of this strategy is that after each student has completed their posts and responses, they often stop reading, responding, and engaging with what others are saying or thinking about the issue or issue. subject to study, thus missing critical ideas and experiences.

While discussion forums are an important part of online courses, as learners typically post and respond to posts from other learners, as Learninghouse (2019) reports, only 66% of respondents said these forums are engaging, highlighting an opportunity for improvement. There are many ways to think about reinventing and redesigning discussion forums, to ensure that they serve to encourage dialogue, critical thinking, and deep learning (as opposed to the surface).

  1. Make sure the content includes something that everyone can relate to.

    If you are going to ask your students to share their experiences, they indeed need to have experiences that they can share! To this end, make sure that your prompts; that is, the questions that initiate discussion are something that students can relate to and meaningfully participate in, so that they are actually able to answer. The most effective discussion questions are those that will connect students’ lives (their experiences, ideas and thoughts) to the content of the course.

  2. Offer multiple media options.

    To fully involve all students, online discussions should be conducted using a variety of media. Although text is the most readily available format in most LMSs, the more media-rich a discussion, the more able students will be able to access and engage in the discussion. While the written text is the most common There are several tools to integrate discussions in situ with a learning activity, including graphics, audio and video material. There are currently many applications and resources available. Many of them are free, and there are online guides to help you select the tool that best meets the needs of your students.

  1. Model the engagement you expect from your students.

    Your engagement allows you to share your expertise and also gives you the opportunity to foster a sense of community within your online classroom. Fostering community means imagining your work much more than just interacting with the individual learning outcomes of the course, but realizing that you are dealing with a diverse class of individuals, and thoughtfully forge links within this class. When you do this, when you provide a space for your students to join the community of learners. You also establish your place in this community, so that your students are more motivated to actively participate and strive for success.

  1. Use a co-facilitation strategy.

    You can do this by designating a small group of students to work together to facilitate a special online discussion each week and respond to questions and comments from their peers. This continuous cross-dissemination serves to ensure a dynamic and flourishing discussion. Co-facilitators can close their discussion threads by creating a summary of what was discussed and also post their own personal thoughts on their co-facilitating experience. Before you begin, be sure to provide your students, through the course schedule and introductory emails, with clear advice and support for their co-facilitation task, and always encourage them to contact you for details. any questions or concerns.

  2. Stay active and keep your online presence alive.

    As your students discuss the content and the co-facilitators complete their tasks, be sure to carefully monitor each conversation to ensure that all interactions are indeed productive, inclusive, and respectful. Post regularly in each discussion thread to indicate that you are visible and that you are reading comments and student responses.

  3. Always provide security.

    Be very intentional in making sure your students feel safe and supported as they explore sensitive topics. Encourage those who identify with a marginalized or under-represented culture to highlight, through discussion, their own language, values, beliefs and traditions. It goes a long way towards a sense of ownership and empowerment! When students identify and can relate to the discussion, it raises the level of critical thinking about the material and fosters an environment conducive to deep learning.

By wisely designing discussion boards, instructors not only provide students with diverse experiences with the discussion board, but can also assess student learning in exciting and engaging ways. Since every discussion will be accessible and relevant, students will look forward to – and meaningfully engage with – new posts, rather than just another course requirement that they check off. simply on their list. You can turn online discussions into meaningful, focused, and dynamic conversations so your students can engage more meaningfully and in depth with the content. They may also find themselves interacting in more focused ways with their peers and working hard to support each other on their learning journeys.

Reflection questions
  1. What is the value of synchronous discussion?
  2. What is the value of asynchronous chat?
  3. Can you think of any other ways that students can take more ownership of the discussion forums, making them much more likely to get involved in the learning content?
  4. How can you improve YOUR engagement so that your students’ engagement is strengthened?

The references

Bloomberg, LD (2021). Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage Adult Learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Learning house (June 2019). Students Online 2019: Complete Application and Preference Data. Recovered from https://49hk843qjpwu3gfmw73ngy1k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/OCS-2019-FINAL-WEB-Report.pdf

Picciano, AG (2019). Online education: foundations, planning and pedagogy. Routledge.


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Harry L. Blanchard