An alternative to discussion forums in online learning

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 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.

About the Author

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

Creating engagement with social learning

Your learners are social by nature. Utilize it to make your courses more engaging.

Providing meaningful social features is a key ingredient for engagement in any online service – let alone in a learning service. Almost anyone who is using the internet has some experience with social media and has connected with other people or content when using it. Although the web around us is highly social, it is hardly leveraged in online learning. In this blog, I will give you examples of how to make your courses more social and engaging, for optimal learning results.


Let’s enable social learning

Normally, in online learning environments, you will find deserted or heated discussion forums. Even if there is engagement, not all discussions are alike.

There is a difference between trivial comments and rigorous argumentation. Just having a discussion for the sake of having it is not a good goal – it should be used to leverage learning. You can do a lot with well-designed assignments, but a learner-centric platform has an effect as well and delivers real results.


Let’s create engagement

When creating engaging online courses the beginning of it is always important – it is the first impression your learners will get. To make the participants feel welcome and more comfortable in collaborating with each other, you should put effort into the introductions. At the beginning of the course, ask your participants to introduce themselves. An easy way to get all participants to introduce themselves is to ask learners to do it while watching an introduction video or reading an introduction document.

If you want your participants to put more effort into their introductions, you can design it to be an assignment. Make them describe their background and prior experience with the topic. Or if you want, you can ask them to do short videos about themselves. Once the participants have all uploaded their introductions, encourage them to leave comments on their peers’ intro videos.


Let’s initiate collaboration

One way to make your current materials more engaging for learners is to think about possible collaborative tasks participants could do while studying. Instead of just reading or watching a video, you can ask them to actively work and explicate their prior conceptions, experiences, and views. Contextual discussion within a document has clear benefits: The discussions are more active and spontaneous.


Let’s encourage participation

It is not enough to design collaborative content to spark engagement. You also need to be there for your learners. As an instructor, you can provide opportunities for learners to show their knowledge to others and highlight active contributors. Remember to encourage participation and constructive criticism and discussions, not only continuous fact-checking. Lead with an example, share, and participate and give positive feedback to all those who share.

When designing for collaboration, try not to create rigidly scheduled processes of collaborative learning. Learners will end up feeling rushed into having an opinion or coming up with too many comments. Avoid negative highlighting and punishment for inactivity as these methods rarely create an engaging and safe environment for collaboration.


Let’s enhance your courses

If all this seems new to you, keep calm and consider seeking assistance from people who have more experience in social online learning. This way you can avoid the most common pitfalls and benefit from the lessons learned by others. The fact that you want to create more user-friendly and socially engaging courses means that you are already on the right track.


P.S. We have created workshops especially to help our customers to tackle the challenges in social learning. You can contact support@claned.com and we will help you make your courses more social.

About the Author

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

Simple secrets of great learning videos

Today, a big part of the media that we consume is in video format and they are proven to engage learners effectively. Videos are easy to follow and watch even on-the-go. While video does not work in every situation, it is a winning format for delivering learning content today due to its ability to combine pictures, text, and sound. However, for many of us, creating learning videos can feel slightly an overwhelming, even intimidating task.

Not to worry, our team has bundles of experience in creating pedagogically optimal learning videos and we want to share some of our cool tool and production tips with you. So, let’s get started and discover simple ways to create something engaging but effective for your learners.



Wait, but isn’t PowerPoint just a classroom presentation tool? Surprisingly, this familiar tool has many more features and gives you an easy option to make your first learning video.

PowerPoint has an option to record your slideshow and add narration and even draw to your slides. PowerPoint offers very good options to use transitions and animate the content on each slide so that the actual video won’t be just static slides.

You should also think about how much information you want to stuff into the screen at once so that the learner can focus on either the text or narration. Even it might feel tempting to do, don’t just record all 40 slides of your presentation — longer presentations like that work best in their original format. Instead, try breaking up your long presentations into shorter ones with specific topical focus per presentation. This way learners have a better chance to grasp the essence of your key messages and stay focused.



If building animations and turning your PowerPoint presentations into educational videos feels a bit overwhelming Lumen5 service might be just for you.

Lumen5 uses Artificial Intelligence to create videos from text automatically. Your text can be an existing website,  document or you can type the text straight into the Lumen5 editor. From there, Lumen5 will animate and add pictures that fit the context!

Furthermore, Lumen5 understands to keep the amount of text on the screen at an appropriate length and helps you to create a nice flow to your video. This works well when you are creating a short introductory type video to deliver a small bite-size amount of information. Additionally, with Lumen5 you can give an assignment for learners to do a video.

You can try the service for free first, and if you are happy with it, Lumen5 offers subscription options to use the full potential of the platform.


Adobe Connect

Sometimes you just want to provide a recording of a lecture to your learners to watch it later on. For this simple need, Adobe Connect works well. You can upload your recording afterward to YouTube or Vimeo and add it to your learning areas for learners to add comments to the video.


Recording your screen for tutorials and instructions

For OSX, QuickTime provides an easy out-of-box screen recording option. Similarly, for Windows, there is ActivePresenter available with features to record your screen. These tools allow you to capture your screen for easy editing later on and also to record audio through the microphone.

Besides these free options, there are non-free options to choose from like Camtasia. It offers the ability to record screen and edit the material comfortably and intuitively. This works well if you intend to do tutorial or instruction videos. Generally, screen recording requires some editing afterward. This allows you to add text and other highlights to increase its value.

If you have plenty of time in your hands and want to learn to edit videos properly, you could take a look at some of these cool free software: HitFilm Express, DaVinci Resolve, OpenShot, or iMovie.


Take your videos to the next level!

Hopefully, you are starting to feel a bit more confident about using videos in your online courses by now. So, let’s next look into different ways to elevate the quality of your learning videos further.

Here are some useful tips for you:

  • Sound: If you have audio on your video, make sure it’s clear. Using an external microphone you will significantly improve the quality of sound. Almost any external microphone will beat the quality of your laptop’s microphone. This makes the listening experience more pleasant to your learner, instead of hindering the actual learning.
  • Captions: Consider adding captions to your video if it’s in a foreign language. Also, if your content is likely to be viewed when commuting, captions are much appreciated.
  • Camera stand: If you are filming yourself, use a stand. It allows you to focus on speaking and performing instead of holding the camera. This will also help your videos achieve more professional final quality.
  • Background music: A heavy, text-based video, could benefit from background music. You can search for CC-licensed music from FreeMusicArchive.
  • Additional material: There is also a lot more CC-licensed material available for you to use in your content. You can read more from CreativeCommons.org about different licenses and resources.


Content creation partners

Now you are ready to produce some cool learning videos. However, if you know what you need or have great ideas for learning videos, but your time and resources are limited, using a content creation partner might be a solution.

Your excellent pedagogical script or material can quickly be turned into a video, a presentation, or a document by an experienced third-party organization. Using this kind of service saves you time and money. Instead, you can focus on marketing and delivering your professionally produced courses with your brand touch and feel included. The investment into professional production can spin ROI immediately, as the content is usable again and again.

Let’s start creating some amazing learning videos!

If you don’t have a content creation partner to work with yet, send me an email to teemu.vaalasmaa@claned.com, and let’s discuss how we can help you to make your learning videos effective and engaging.

Teemu Vaalasmaa

Teemu is passionate about e-learning and technology in general. He helps customers to succeed in using Claned platform.

Fostering connectivity and engagement in online learning

Fostering connectivity and engagement in online learning – how to do it and why should you even care? 

A rapid movement from live education to online versions is a big leap. Organization HR, teachers, education providers, trainers, you name it, are making huge efforts in forming online course scripts, allocating relevant existing materials, producing new ones in a speed of light, writing instructions, and designing assignments and evaluation criteria, just to name a few. Training programs and courses should’ve been active yesterday, employees and students are already waiting, and organizations are expecting to scale up and smoothen their operations already in this quartal, whether we talk about corporates, training companies, SME’s, educational institutions or NGO’s. Especially currently, during the COVID-19 crisis, things are crazy and transformation fast. There is a danger that this anxiety, insecurity, hurry, and even stress are unwantedly transferred to the otherwise so amazing online courses and training. The important question is, how can you overcome this?  


Viivi Pentikäinen a CEO and training program leader from Positive Education experienced first-hand this rapid and, according to her own words, even unpleasant change of moving from live training to online programs. She has always believed in people coming together, connecting personally, sharing their thoughts and feelings, and experiencing the feeling of being together, a team, a community. But she, too, had to bow in front of COVID-19 and figure out how to adjust her business to the new order of the world.

“There was no choice left but to start transferring our materials, training programs and learning to an online format. Of course, the first versions of our training programs were pretty much hard-wired, not so pretty, but we made it. We were able to get our content online and keep running our training programs. For us, the most important thing, as well as a concern, was to figure out how to help learners to maintain the feeling of social connectivity as a group as well as a sense of well-being even when studying online. Another thing that we paid a lot of attention to was to figure out how to build and maintain a safe learning environment and encourage dialogue in an online environment. These are things our training are known and praised for, in addition to the quality of content, and what our customers kept in high value.” Viivi says that she sighed from relief and even wrote in social media about it when she got customer feedback thanking Positive Education for being able to create such a warm and welcoming, inspirational atmosphere in their online learning environment.  


So, what did Viivi and Positive Education do right?

Here are some tips on how to create a safe and encouraging atmosphere for your online course environment and how to ensure the feeling of social connectivity even when studying online.  

1) People first – Social connections are a must! For Positive Education it is important that people know each other and trusts each other when they learn together. They use online live sessions actively for strengthening the social connectivity of the group, not so much for teaching new content and without very intense learning objectives. They have assignments over which learners can get to know each other, share ideas, and team up. “We had people call a study partner from the group and just chat how everyone was feeling at the beginning of the learning modules as a way to add social connectivity at the beginning of each module,” Viivi says.  

2) Good instructions with a personalized message create a safe learning environment. Remember that not everybody is used to or comfortable studying online. For some people just logging on to a new platform might cause anxiety and negative feelings that in turn make learning not optimal. Good instructions and welcoming introductory videos on how the learning process will unfold provide people with a safe feeling because now they know what is coming and how to proceed. Also, a personalized greeting from the teacher to the learners give a sense that the learners are important and that the teacher is “walking with them” on the study path. “I am terrible at following instructions and impatient if I don’t understand something right away which makes me pretty good at writing instructions because I make them SO clear that even I would understand them!” Viivi laughs.  

3) Take breaks, recovery, and wellbeing seriously. With live training, there are a lot of things that enhance wellbeing that is not present when studying online. In live training, most people get energy from social interaction, discussions, and even coffee breaks during the teaching sessions. It is important to include restorative practices, breaks, and wellbeing sessions such as mindfulness moments to an online learning experience to strengthen wellbeing and energy levels during the study time.  

4) You get learning engagement by engaging people. A successful online learning experience is one where the learner feels engaged during the learning process and completes the learning tasks. If the learning experience is not engaging people drop out. So, to get more engagement you need to involve and engage people in the learning process personally. A good way is to ask questions, add personal reflections and commentary assignments, and utilize activating, emotional hooks to catch the learners’ attention.  

5) Use humor and activate positive emotions as much as possible! Humor and sharing of positive emotions connect people. Laughter clears out the tension and anxiety and is often created together when teams feel secure enough. It is a good idea to use laid back wordings in your instructions, materials, and assignments and smile during video conferences. Laughing about your own mistakes and showing your learners that even though learning might not always be so fun, you can still have fun in your learning group, are essential in helping your learners relax, too. Or why not share jokes at the beginning of the zoom-session?

“Here is one of our favorite shared to me by my son: “Most students know that pressing the control+f4 key is used to exit a game or a meeting. So, when teachers ask students for advice on, for example, how to get the brightness up or the camera on, be aware of the reply is: …just press the control+f4! – bye-bye, teacher!”  


So, what do you think? Have you remembered to include elements to your online courses that foster social connectivity, dialogue, feelings of togetherness, and make the environment psychologically safe and engaging?

Not to worry if this has been forgotten during all the hassle, you have plenty of time and iterations to start doing small changes and additions, one by one. And of course, we are happy to help!

Our mini course on the topic will be out for purchasing already this spring. If you are interested, contact us at info@claned.com to be the first one to get it. 

About the Author

Solja Sulkunen works as Head of Customer Experience in Claned Group creating the best possible learning experience for all Claned users. She ensures everyday fast and easy deployment of the platform for our new users.