Why Discussion Forums Are Beneficial For Learning

Online discussion forums can be highly beneficial to learning in a variety of ways.

The entire world has shifted to a new way of learning. Sitting in the classroom has been replaced by sitting at home on the family computer. While online learning has allowed students to maintain their education during the ongoing pandemic, it can be lonely and isolated. Thankfully, online discussion forums can be highly beneficial to learning in a variety of ways.

What is a Discussion Board?

If you have ever been online, then chances are you have encountered an online discussion board. Much like Social Media, online discussion boards provide a place for people to come together and share their thoughts and opinions on a topic.

Meant to facilitate collaborative communication and discussion, the online discussion forum can be an excellent tool for creating an in-depth learning environment.

Online discussion boards have been around since the rise of the internet but have become extremely popular in asynchronous learning environments. A message is posted, often by the professor, that is then viewable by the entire class. Students are asked to share their thoughts, answer a question, or discuss a subject.

An Online discussion board differs from a chat room in that the messages are often longer, and the entire thread is often archived, at least temporarily. A ‘thread’ is a single conversation or topic within the broader discussion board. For example, if you have ever used Reddit, this website consists of numerous threads created by various members to spark the discussion of a selected topic.

In many instances, messages within a discussion board are arranged by popularity, with the ability to view messages from newest to oldest or using some other selected filter.

Discussion boards encourage conversation, making them an excellent tool for schools and education centers.

How Discussion Boards Can Help Students Learn:   

Discussion Boards Create a Social Presence:

The use of discussion boards in education helps to create the feeling of a community. This sense of community can then help to form an emotional connection to the course and material. An emotional connection means that students will be more engaged and more likely to retain what they are learning.  

Discussion Boards Help Students Who May Be Struggling:

Discussion boards can help students who feel overwhelmed by online learning feel less alone. By fostering a community environment and encouraging conversation, students will see that they are not alone in their struggles and can clarify any misunderstood content by reading through the posts of others. This aids in creating a more in-depth learning environment in which students better understand the course material.

Discussion Boards Allow for Deeper More Meaningful Participation:

Since discussion boards are not usually ‘live,’ real-time conversations, they provide students the opportunity to reflect on their posts before submitting them. Students can think about their responses based on what others have written. Thus, discussion boards allow students to expand upon one another’s thoughts and form a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the subject. 

Discussion Boards Allow Students to Focus on Topics of Interest:

Discussion boards are not usually constrained by time or length. This means that students can continue conversations about topics that interest them as they see fit. The free dialogue that discussion forums promote allows students to discuss issues that affect them most in constructive and meaningful ways.  This process can help students better understand the content and share their thoughts with peers in a classroom environment.

Learning online can be a lonely, frustrating process for some. Online discussion forums aim to encourage conversation between students and their professors to enable more active learning. The set-up and layout of discussion forums make discussing a variety of topics more accessible and organized. Students can focus on each topic as much as they need to understand the subject better, and professors can continually post new content to be reviewed.

Discussion forums also help to alleviate the stress put onto the professor by allowing students to learn from one another as they go. The open, back-and-forth conversation promoted within discussion forums is an excellent tool for helping to clarify complex subjects and encouraging the sharing of thoughts and feelings that aid in a deeper understanding.

Discussion forums may also help students connect and form more profound relationships in the long run. Discussion forums are an excellent tool that should not be overlooked and should aid and enhance learning opportunities for online students.  

How To Utilize Discussion Forums To Enhance Learning:

Discussion forums are considered one of the greatest tools in online learning. Unfortunately, these forums often fail to enhance learning as much as they can simply due to design and structure flaws.

Below are some helpful suggestions for utilizing discussion forums to promote an active learning environment:

Be Clear:

If you are a professor designing your discussion forum assignments, the instructions must be clear and easy to follow. Consider using pinned posts to outline your expectations and provide plenty of examples. Ensure the students know what to expect and what is expected of them, but leave room for personal interpretation. You want the conversation to flow freely, so starting with an open-ended question is a great choice. Encourage participation by providing credit for the ongoing discussion and keep the discussion flowing with follow-up thoughts and questions.

Don’t Steal the Spotlight:

Each post in a discussion forum holds weight. If you are aiming to encourage student participation, be sure that your posts are structured in a way that allows discussion. Keep your initial posts short and concise, and be sure to give the students specific instruction on your expectations. While professor follow-up can be helpful, the focus should be on the students interacting with one another in meaningful ways. Try to refrain from stealing the spotlight with long. Confusing posts that answer all possible questions. Instead, encourage students to come up with the answers on their own.

Dig Deep:

One of the best aspects of discussion forums is their ability to make people think in ways that they did not before. Pose questions that encourage philosophical discussion and opinion sharing as well as factual information. Aim to have students dig deep into both themselves and the content to find the answer. In order to learn, students must be allowed to share their thoughts openly with one another. Sit back and allow them to explore ideas in ways you may not have considered as their teacher.   


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