Why Use Forums in Your eLearning Courses

Justine Ickes
Feb 11, 2015 12:56:42 PM

You’d be surprised what some people assume about consumer learning. When it comes to online forums and live chats, especially, you hear all sorts of things.


What’s the point of creating a forum for our online school? Everything our customers need to know is right there in the course.

We don’t need live discussions in our online program. If anyone has questions, they can just check our FAQ page.

Why would people want to talk to each other? Our clients are very independent. They’ll be perfectly happy working through the course on their own.


We get it. You want to spread your message, share your know-how, and, ultimately grow your business. A self-contained course appeals because it means you can reach more customers. Faster. More efficiently. And with very little back-and-forth.


We know, too, that for many learners, the beauty of a self-directed all-inclusive course is that you can simply enroll, log in, and work at your own pace. So, if the no-frills approach appeals to you and your customers, why even consider forums, moderated discussions, chat rooms, and other live features for your online learning program?


Because, in the world of eLearning, you’re still dealing with people. And people like to connect with other people.

Thinking of incorporating live features in your online course? Here are some things to consider.


Choose and Use the Right Tool

Before you enable a live feature, think about why you want to use that tool, what your learning goals are, and how you envision learners using it.


Remember, some live tools are better suited for certain types of content and interactions.


For example, let’s say you’ve developed a class for special needs teachers. You could create a forum where people could talk about trends in the field, share lesson plan ideas, and brainstorm solutions to student issues.


If you wanted to create a space for more structured information-sharing, you might opt instead for a threaded discussion. With this approach, you identify predefined topics and then create and post questions for learners to respond to. Depending on the learning management platform you’re using, you can choose to reveal all the discussion threads at once, or you can reveal them one at a time during the course.


Want to provide just-in-time support for the teachers in your course? You could incorporate a chat where teachers could touch base throughout the day.


Be Willing to Let Go and Let Learn

Adding a live element to your online school can be liberating or anxiety-producing. (Okay, maybe it’s a little of both.)

If you and your students are accustomed to seeing you as the instructor — the expert, the person with all the answers, or the guru in your field — you’ll need to address that assumption at the outset.


First off, be honest with yourself. How comfortable are you with not always having the answer? How nimble are you at thinking off the cuff? How much are you willing to prepare offline during the course to respond to students’ questions?


Think, too, about the people who’ll be taking your class. Will they appreciate the opportunity to learn together? Or are they expecting you to take a more traditional instructor role?


Plan for Learning

No matter what interactive feature you choose, take the time to plan before going live.


Decide upfront exactly how you’ll set up and manage your forum or discussion area. Do you need to create and post a code of conduct or guidelines? Will anyone be able to begin a new thread? Will you, as the moderator, weigh in our every discussion or chat? Who will have the final say on discussions?


Don’t forget to look for ways to capture the insights and information that’s created through student discussions. Many platforms, for example, will let you search for a topic, or archive entire threads. Can you do the same and then incorporate that content into a new course?


Remember, you don’t have to speak in tongues to make forums, chats and discussions a part of your online learning programs.


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