Eight Tips for Facilitating Effective Online Discussion Forums

At the heart of every online course is the discussion forum. This is where ideas, information, and new material are shared, discussed, analyzed, built upon, etc. In many ways, the discussion forum mimics the classroom in a face-to-face environment. “Discussion is one of the most effective ways to make students aware of the range of interpretations that are possible in an area of intellectual inquiry.” (Brookfield, 2005, p. 22).

In the online learning environment, the discussion takes on a new level of importance for the physically dispersed learners to build a sense of community. It is where they connect with other learners; share their personal experience, opinions, and thoughts; explore new concepts; and deepen their understanding of the material.

The instructor is a facilitator in the discussion. They serve to monitor the responses and ensure that the discussion is a safe place for all students to share. Facilitators should keep the discussion on track and help those that tend to stray, focus on the material being discussed. Facilitators should help to advance the discussion if it happens to become “stuck.” But facilitators should not be so heavily involved that they impede the process or the flow of discussion.

Here are eight discussion forum strategies instructors should employ to enhance students’ online experience:

  1. Post the rules of netiquette and behavior expectations at the start of class.
  2. Encourage students to introduce themselves and meet one another to form a learning community where they will feel safe to share and discuss.
  3. Develop discussion questions that allow the student to critically reflect on the material and synthesize it with their own experiences.
  4. Encourage students to participate early and often.
  5. Create their presence in the classroom but not interfere with the flow of the discussion.
  6. Intervene when the discussion is veering off in the wrong direction and help move the discussion back on track.
  7. Ensure that the discussion forum is a safe learning environment.
  8. Promote further thinking and reflection by posing more thoughtful and engaging questions within any given discussion.

Rebecca Owens, Adjunct Faculty, University of Phoenix, DeVry University and Colorado Technical University.

Brookfield, S., Peskill, S. (2005). Discussion as A Way of Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.