Top Nav

How to facilitate an online discussion


Online discussions may seem to happen naturally but there are specific ways a facilitator can respond to ensure comments evolve into good online conversations.

people talking languages

As much as students like to chat amongst themselves the success of an interaction is that it develops into a full learning experience. Here’s some tips on how to get through the chit chat and push those interactions into areas of thinking, collaborating and learning.


1. Keep the chit chat to a ‘water cooler’ area. This means setting up a space where people can chat about things that aren’t related to the topic. Encourage this, it’s great for people to find things in common and connect.


2. In the first week start a friendly fun conversation introducing everyone. Ask questions that will help establish relationships among the students, help people to meet each other.


3. People need somewhere to vent so regularly have a conversation space that is not tied too closely to the content but more of a debrief space.


3. Ask good questions, forget the yes/no questions, ask a question that relates to the course content and takes it one step further. Remember to always link these questions to your objectives, are you wanting students to analyse, identify, describe etc. Good ways to ask questions are to relate a topic to personal experience, or ask what they would do if they had hindsight, or what they thought the author meant when …


Dog looking at computer screen

4. Ask people to respond to other’s posts with an explanation or reflection or furthering the discussion. Set discussion guidelines such as to be supportive, considerate and to always proof read your post. You can incorporate this into the assessment.


5. Give a minimum posting requirement. People are working from a distance so ask everyone to check in regularly and set a required number of time they must post. This will also help to stop people ‘lurking’.


6. Get everyone involved. Have different participants moderate discussions and also make this part of the course assessment. This is a sure way for students to learn the importance of meaningful interaction.


7. Add to the discussion yourself. If you can see a way to develop a comment or want to ask for further clarification, get in there, be part of the learning. Remind students to contribute if they’re falling behind.


8. Remember the ‘I’m confused’, ‘I don’t know what to do’ or responses that don’t go anywhere can be a cry for help. Reach out and give support to these students, guide them and help to get them on board.




Do you have other tips or suggestions?  Leave a comment below.


Enhanced by Zemanta

, , ,

One Response to How to facilitate an online discussion

  1. Geoff Goolnik March 5, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    Very helpful list. Under point 6, “Get everyone involved”, I would add assigning students to undertake summaries of the week’s/element’s discussions. Underscores experiental, reflective learning further for them and for the others in the class.

Leave a Reply