Facilitating Online Discussions

Last revised: 02/05/2018 by dsm. 


Online discussions are used to build dynamic learning communities, to synthesize key concepts, and to promote critical thinking skills. This article highlights tips for successfully facilitating online discussion forums.


Set Clear Guidelines


Be Present

Being present in the course is a best practice that cannot be over emphasized.  Research has shown that when instructors are part of the discussion, students are more likely to participate.  However, it’s important to strike a balance.

How often should you respond?

    • Give students a chance to respond to each other before jumping in.
    • Jump in when students are:
      • Off track
      • Not answering the questions
      • Not connecting their post to the content
      • Saying too much
    • Provide encouragement when students:
      • Give an excellent example
      • Cite new, appropriate outside sources
      • Provide meaningful feedback to peers
      • Are creative

Address students privately who are way off base or inappropriate via email or provide feedback in the grading. Use the announcement tool if students as a group are slow to participate.  Email students who are not present, encouraging participation and directing to the discussion guidelines.


Summarize Completed Discussions

Students benefit from having the discussion summarized, particularly if some are off track.  It can provide valuable feedback to improve future performance, move the class forward as a group and serve as a transition to the next module.  Here are a few options:

    • Wrap up the discussion within the forum
    • Ask students to take turns summarizing their group discussions.
    • Provide feedback and expectations that can improve students’ performance in the discussion activities– particularly early in the course
    • Summarize the discussion in an announcement.


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