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Online Learning: Importance of Online Discussion Groups

Discussion Groups in Online Training

In the world of online learning, discussion groups, discussion boards, discussion forums or threaded discussions are of vital importance. The reason is simple. A discussion forum offers a place to instructor-to-learner and student-to-student interaction to take place. It allows learners to share thoughts, ideas and even review them.

Are you aware that there are 3.77 billion global Internet users, which is roughly about half of the world’s population, and there are nearly 2.80 billion global social media users? The data speaks volumes about the relevance of interaction in today’s technology-oriented world.

Thanks to the technological advancement, a lively online discussion is the best way to ignite a creative spark and make ideas flow. Unlike the yesteryear’s, when online instructors created eLearning content and hoped that the learners would find it useful, things have changed now. With the availability of discussion forums, online courses can be created and modified instantly.

In this post, we will shed light on the benefits of online discussions, how they can use in online training, easy strategies to implement them along with some instances where discussions can be used.

Advantages of Online Discussions for Students

Forum Discussion

  • Improves work quality: When students are aware that the course creators and their peers will read their postings, they will put in efforts. Asynchronous discussion allows students to closely watch their postings before making them live. Idea exchange helps to improve work quality as compared to if students were left on their own.
  • Helps prepare better: When the discussion happens before issues or concepts are discussed in class, it helps students to prepare better for the class. They are more engaged, knows about the related questions and comments that were posted.
  • Allows to master discussion skills: Online discussions come in handy for students to become facilitators of their own learning. They understand how to pose relevant questions and share a response that will help their peers improve their understanding. The online format works best for the shy students who are not comfortable with face-to-face discussions.
  • Take part in multiple discussions: If an online training software is being used to support online discussions, it will allow the students to engage in multiple discussions at the same time. This ensures that learners never miss an opportunity to share their ideas, which is a common problem in face-to-face discussions.
  • Refine writing skills: While most of the online discussions need to follow an informal approach, it allows students to improve their writing skills. Group responses usually demand more formal writing, which is a great way to better your writing. The interactive nature of the discussion, where ideas get refined as the discussion advances, also helps students to make their writing more professional.
  • Identify the subject experts: Discussion forums are the best place for identifying the subject matter experts. This is a great way to recognize the in-house experts and making them visible among peers.

Although discussion offers multiple benefits to students, not all training initiatives are properly leveraging them to its full potential. Many a time, the online discussion boards negatively impact the existence of the online teachers and take up a bulk of their time.

Realizing that discussion board burn-out is a common occurrence nowadays, here are some effective strategies that can come in handy to curtail the instructor workload and promote learning.

Instructor Learning

  • Every online teacher should undertake a thorough course learning outcomes before and customize the discussion content to enrich the content presented in the training module.
  • The online tutor should share the initial response at every discussion forum. To further student learning, interesting resources, insights and additional questions can be shared. This will help the instructor make his/her presence felt even before a learner makes the first post.
  • The instructor should consider creating and saving a series of daily discussion posts for every week of the course. These posts should comprise – links to resources, instructor’s view on the topic or provide information related to a scholarship to help engage students. With each term, these posts can be recycled. It will allow the instructor to make regular contributions without putting a lot of effort.
  • When students don’t participate, the instructor can share additional prompts that encourage students to actively take part in the discussion.
  • Instructors should consider using YouTube, Ted Talks, news articles to engage the learners effectively without spending hours to create content.
  • Narrative comments should be shared as part of the assignment feedback which will direct the learners to revisit and comment on a specific topic in the discussion forum. This is an easy way through which the instructor can connect learning outcomes between assignments and discussions.
  • The initial posts made by a student in a discussion forum should be promptly responded by the instructors. It can be a question, redirect the learner to a related topic or even share a link to a resource the learner may find useful. You can also personalize the response with the student’s name.

How to Integrate Online Discussions in a Course

Watch How to Enable Collaboration & Discussions in Your Course

  • Connect the discussions to the course targets: Similar to other teaching strategies, online discussions should never be used as a mere add-on to a training material. It is key to take into consideration what course objectives you expect discussions to support and the possible ways to integrate them. What are the things you want the learners to acquire from the discussions? The answers will help you prepare relevant online discussion activities.
  • Define deadlines for postings: A major chunk of integrating online discussions into a course is about using the ideas (that came to the fore) in the course (such as sharing the points from the discussion in the next training session). The integration can happen when sufficient time is left between the end of a discussion and the class. Hence, keep a close track of the timing of discussions against the timing of the different other elements.
  • Regularly use online discussions: It is key to maintain momentum. Every course should include a discussion (either weekly or fortnightly). This will prompt the learners to regularly check the discussion board.
  • Make online discussion participation an integral part of the course grade: Students typically learn when they are rewarded. If grades are not given for participation, it is most likely that student may not use the discussion forum. Find out how much of the course grade you want to give to discussions and also if the evaluation will depend on the quantity or quality of postings. Believe it or not, at the Harvard Business School, 50% of student’s grades are based on their class participation.
  • Clearly, state the participation requirements: It is best to define the guidelines and expectations, both for individual and group responsibilities, right from the beginning of the course. If you share the time guidelines for every task, it will help students manage better.

Key Places where Online Discussions can be used in a Training Program

  • If the instructor has access to group discussion functionality on the online training software, they enjoy better control and visibility. Moreover, it will also allow them to link it to other activities like webinars, workshops etc. Before the face-to-face training session, the course instructor can invite attendees to a related discussion group. It will help the students to know each other and the teacher is able to identify the knowledge gaps.
  • When a class is in session, discussion groups can be used. It helps students and instructors to keep a close track of the lesson without getting diverting from the topic. This works best for those students who failed to attend the training session.

Summing up

Discussion forums in the world of online training offer students the opportunity to connect and receive valuable feedback. It is most useful for those learners who don’t have ample time to spend hours on training and often get distracted easily. Since online discussion forums are capable of supporting a wide range of learning styles, every online training software should include it as a functionality.

Does your elearning software offer the flexibility of group discussions? Please share your feedback with us in the comments section below.

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About the author

Kamy Anderson is an online training expert and a product manager. He leads the product vision and strategy of ProProfs Training Maker. Kamy blogs about trends in eLearning, online training, employee training, gamification, LMS, AI, and more. His articles are published in eLearningIndustry, TrainingMag, Training Zone, and Learning Solutions Magazine. You can connect with Kamy on LinkedIn.