How to encourage and facilitate online discussions with Moodle forums

October 3, 2021 By Júlia Verdaguer

The Moodle Academy team share tips to encourage meaningful discussions online, get engagement from learners and make the most of Moodle forums

Forums, or message boards, are a communication tool that enables participants to interact with each other and exchange knowledge. This is especially meaningful in online environments, where interaction with peers needs to be actively facilitated. When it comes to online education, forums are one the most important and equitable communication tools for learning development because they’re asynchronous, support UDL practices and social learning through peer review and support. 

As an asynchronous tool, forums allow learners to communicate with each other at any time, from anywhere with an Internet connection. They don’t have to be logged in at the same time to communicate with each other, which means they can take time to compose a reply and this allows those who may be unwilling or unable to speak in a live class environment to participate in discussion with their peers and share learnings.

In Moodle LMS, the Forum activity is one of the most used tools for collaborative learning, and its many options give educators the flexibility to design their courses to teach the way they want. Let’s have a more detailed look at Moodle forums and how to make the most of them.


Types of Moodle forums

There are many kinds of forums to choose from in Moodle LMS; the type of forum that you choose to set up will depend on your teaching goals for the discussion. Let’s have a look at what each type of Moodle forum is useful for:

  • Standard forum for general use. This is an open forum where anyone can start a new topic at any time, as well as reply to any discussion. This is the best general-purpose forum.
  • Single simple discussion: a single discussion topic which everyone can reply to. This forum is useful to help learners focus and stay on topic, replying to only the opening post.
  • Each person posts one discussion: each participant can post exactly one new discussion topic, which everyone can then reply to. This enables learners to take ownership of their discussion post and is very useful for a peer assessment task, where learners can share their work in the discussion they start, and then have peers reply to it. It’s also a great forum to get learners to introduce themselves to the class.
  • Q&A forum: with this type of forum, learners must post a message before they see other students’ posts. This is very useful to encourage learners to post their own perspectives rather than repeating or copying what others have said. Because it requires original submissions, the Moodle Q&A forum can be used for assessment.
  • Standard forum displayed in a blog-like format: this works like the standard forum for general use, but only the opening discussion in the forum is displayed to ensure that users will read it. Then, they can respond by clicking a “Discuss this topic” button. 


Strategies to foster and facilitate online discussions

Creating engagement and meaningful interactions in an online environment is quite different from doing it in a face-to-face environment. When it comes to getting learners involved in online discussions, there are some strategies you can implement to make sure everyone participates.

  • Create a safe environment: make learners aware of the code of conduct for the forums in your course or, to get greater commitment, have them agree to the terms and write it collaboratively. Ensuring a safe environment for everyone will encourage participation. Monitor the forums periodically -or give moderation capabilities to another user – to ensure no one is breaking the code of conduct. You can see an example of a forum code of conduct on our Moodle community forums.
  • Nurture the discussion: if the conversation loses momentum,, you can encourage it to continue, or to be more profound, by using questions that make learners think and come back to you with deeper responses, such as “What do you think about…?”, “Why do you think…?”, “What would happen if…?” or “What is your experience of…?”. These questions are also helpful as discussion-openers.
  • Use ratings to encourage participation: associating a grade with replying to a discussion is a very straightforward way to get learners participating in forums, whether it is you as a teacher who grades contributions, or you allow students to rate each other’s posts (in that case, providing a rubric or grading guide is always a good idea).
  • Gamify participation with badges: issuing a badge when learners reply to a forum can encourage them to do so. However, it should be used with care, since it could encourage some to reply just for the sake of obtaining a badge.
  • Give feedback: let learners know if the discussion is going in the right direction; this can encourage those who still haven’t participated to post a reply. If there is something that learners can improve, you can use the ‘sandwich method’ in which you say something positive, then something to improve, then end with something positive.
  • Keep the focus on the topic: in online discussions, especially if the interaction is high, it’s normal for participants to go off topic. You can nudge participants to bring the conversation back on topic by saying things like “let’s go back to…” or “returning to the original topic”… However, if the discussion has derailed completely, Moodle has an option that allows you to split the forum and create a new discussion beginning with a post you pick.

This content has been extracted from the webinar “Make the most of Moodle Forums”, facilitated by Moodle Educator Manager Mary Cooch on August 25th. The recording and associated course are available on Moodle Academy.

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