An alternative to discussion forums in online learning

Discussions are an essential part of online learning. Engaging with other learners is both pleasant and productive. Conversations create divergent thinking and help to develop thinking skills. Moreover, they increase motivation and engagement. Learners enjoy getting feedback from their personal views and reading what others think.

But not all discussions are alike. There is a difference between ignorant comments and rigorous argumentation. You can do a lot with well-designed assignments, but the platform has as an effect as well.

The effect of the platform

Yanyan Sun and Fei Gao examined the effect of a threaded discussion forum and a contextual social annotation in their article in The Internet and Higher Education journal. First, they assigned course participants randomly to groups. The groups did the one part of a course on a discussion forum and another with a contextual annotation tool.

The results indicated that the two environments impacted student participation, knowledge construction processes, and the nature of discussions. Participants posted more comments in the contextual discussion compared to the discussion forum, and the discussion was more specific and precise. Comments on the discussion forum were closer to general commentary. Learners reported that it was easier for them to exchange ideas on the contextual discussion platform because the comments were located next to the place they wanted to comment on.

It is clear that choosing the right tool is essential. Digitally mediated communication is just that: highly mediated.

Discussions in Claned

In Claned we have chosen to put discussions alongside the learning materials. You can tag any part of a video or highlight any text in content, and tag comments that specific point in the article. Notifications alert and direct users to the location of learning material for anyone following a discussion. The discussions build in the margins of any learning material engaging learners with the content.

The feedback from our users is similar to what Sun and Gao reported: learners create more spontaneous comments and there is more discussion. Furthermore, skilled educators have come up with ways to use the contextual discussion feature to engage their learners. You can easily instruct learners on what to pay attention to when going through your materials. This lets you guide discussions on topics that are important for the learning program.

Interested in learning more about Claned learning platform? Do you want to know how to make your online learning more engaging?

Email us at info@claned.com.

topi litmanen

About the Author

Dr. Topi Litmanen worked as a Chief Educational Scientist in Claned. He was responsible for ensuring, that the pedagogical aspects of Claned are based on evidence-based learning research.