Tips for using Discussion Forums in MOOCs

Tips for using Discussion Forums in MOOCs

Most MOOCs have discussion forums to help learners engage more with the course, their peers and the instructors. How much you interact with others will determine to a large extent how much you gain from the course. Everyone learns in different ways, but statistics have shown that the more an online student engages in the course discussion boards, the more likely he or she is to succeed.


You can engage in online conversation to a lesser or greater degree depending on what you are comfortable with:

• Reading other people’s posts without contributing to the conversation

• Reading other people’s posts and replying to them

• Starting your own conversations and asking others to reply

Given the vast number of students who may be enrolled on the same course as you, it is a good idea to make time to establish which fellow students are contributing the most valuable comments, reading their personal profiles and selecting to “follow” the chosen few. This allows you to filter the posts down to a more manageable number.

Contributing to online discussions can be daunting, but very rewarding once you become comfortable with it. Start by introducing yourself, and asking a question about the course or a particular topic being covered. Make sure your question isn’t too vague and that it hasn’t been posted before. Regular users of forums are usually keen to offer advice and feedback. Continue posting questions as and when you need to. As you gain confidence, you can start contributing to other people’s posts and offer feedback and advice if you feel you can help.

Some useful tips for posting in online discussion forums

· Create time to spend engaging with the discussions.

· Keep your posts short and concise, keeping to one point per post

· If you start a conversation, try to encourage a discussion by making a bold statement or posting an open-ended question. Acknowledge any replies you get by commenting on or “liking” their responses.

· If you post a question, check that it hasn’t already been asked before.

· Support any “facts” with evidence and make sure they are accurate.

· Use informative keywords in your thread titles.

· Only post comments that actually add value to a conversation.

· Don’t be afraid to disagree with other people’s comments, but remember to explain why.

· Be open to other people’s views as this can broaden your perspectives.

· Respond promptly, give positive feedback when it’s due and offer assistance if you can.

· Be polite and respect others’ views.

· Enjoy the interaction with peers and use the time you spend on the forums productively to deepen your understanding and hone your skills.

Small group discussions

On some courses, students are required to form small discussion groups around a particular course topic or activity. In this case, the instructor may select the individuals to join a particular group. This can be awkward for some, but the best approach is to start by introducing yourself to the other group members with some details of your background, learning goals and skills. This will encourage others to do the same if they haven’t already. You may want to assign specific roles to group members, such as manager, moderator, secretary etc. Be mindful of other members’ time zone and other commitments. Finally, share out the work fairly and in accordance with the different members’ skillset.

One of the great advantages of MOOCs is the diversity of the people enrolled on a course at the same time with all their experience, knowledge and skills to share with others. A considerable amount of learning can be generated from interaction with like-minded people via the discussion forums, so don’t be afraid to use this excellent learning tool to your advantage.

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