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Learning Enhancement and Development

Session 3E - Workshop

Online Discussion Forums: Planning and facilitating for good quality discussion

Ms Leonie Sloman - King's Health Partners (KCL)

This workshop is aimed at staff considering using online discussion forums in their teaching, or seeking to make their discussions more effective. It will also be useful to course leaders and learning technologists interested in supporting online discussion on a wider scale.

Discussion can support learning by providing opportunities for students to relate principles to different contexts, compare contrasting viewpoints, explain ideas in their own words and receive feedback (Asterhan & Schwarz 2016). However, people often 'talk past' each other in discussion groups, offering their own opinions and experiences without really engaging with other people's. Setting particular discussion tasks and helping students develop discussion skills can lead to better quality online discussion (Schindler & Burkholder 2014).  

The workshop will be structured around the following questions to take attendees through the process of planning a discussion forum.
*Why include group discussion in a course?
*What are the pros & cons of online vs face-to-face discussions?
*What kind of forum structures and discussion tasks suit different educational aims?
*What will motivate students to contribute to discussion forums?
*What preparatory information might students need?
*What additional coaching might benefit students?

This interactive session will combine presentations of international case studies based on published papers, with opportunities to apply key ideas to your own subject area.

By the end of the session, you should have gained:
*an understanding of educational benefits of online discussion 
*a framework for planning online discussions 
*ideas for preparing and supporting students 
*an awareness of what tutor support may be needed 

We'll draw a clear distinction between simple techniques to try when running your first discussion group, and advanced considerations for people already committed to this approach.


Asterhan, C.S. & Schwarz, B.B. (2016). Argumentation for Learning: Well-Trodden Paths and Unexplored Territories.  Educational Psychologist51(2), 164-187.

Schindler, L.A. & Burkholder, G.J. (2014) Instructional Design and Facilitation Approaches that Promote Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Online Discussions: A Review of the Literature. Higher Learning Research Communications, 4(4).