Forums for learning 2

What are the benefits of forums in your course?

Let’s ignore the value of an Announcements or News type forum – which can be used for simple ‘push’ type notifications – because that’s obvious.

But what are the benefits for learners of using a forum in your course?

  • Students can ask for help. And although the teacher may be the main person responding to requests, the beauty of a forum is that because all other course participants can see they question, they can also reply with an answer. This is one of the key characteristics of forums – the discussion can be read and added to by everyone.
  • Unlike video-conference and webinar type communications, which happened in real time, forums are asynchronous, and no-one needs to be online at the same time. The forum posts can be read at any time, and answered at any time.
  • There is much research to indicate that:
    • Composing responses to forum posts encourages a deeper level of thinking and consideration than speaking, so the people posting are often thinking and learning as they contribute.
    • The asynchronous nature of a forum gives time to think, time to consider, and is quite the opposite of being in a real time conversation. Some learners may find they have an ability to communicate their thoughts much more clearly in this situation, not being rushed, or communicating at the speed of someone else.

The role of the teacher or facilitator is key.

It’s not OK to add forums to an online course, and then ignore them.

Just like a conversation in a traditional classroom, the teacher should be guiding, managing,and supporting the discussion. But not controlling them. Although there may be cases where a teachers needs to ‘step in’ to ensure the interactions remind positive, respectful, and on point.

I have seen online courses where there is virtually no interaction, and others where the forums are highly active, and engaging the learners, playing a central part in the learning experience. These days, I couldn’t imaging an online courses without such forums. Without them, a course becomes nothing more than a repository of information, and effectively a self-study exercise – not too different from the old day of inserting a CD ROM or DVD and just working through the material. That’s not effective learning for most people, we can do a lot better as educators.

What are the biggest benefits of forums in your courses?

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Stuart Mealor

Stuart is interested in all things e-learning, with specific interests in Moodle, e-learning strategy, and business development. His experience in education over 30 years, MBA in International Business, and knowledge of e-learning systems implementation, together with graphic design background, give him a unique skill set for e-learning projects.

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