Design online discussions to promote active learning

The discussion board is the heart and soul of the online learning community (Boettcher & Conrad, 2016). As an asynchronous tool, discussion boards provide a way for students to process, analyze and synthesize information.

In an online environment, it is not uncommon for students to find themselves battling with feelings of isolation, confusion and frustration. Providing opportunities for students to introduce themselves and interact in low-stake discussion topics can be helpful in building a community and enhancing a sense of belonging. Consider ways to involve students in the facilitation of discussion topics that reflect on synchronous or asynchronous learning activities.

Here are some ideas for discussion board activities that encourage active learning, critical thinking, exploration, reflection and interaction among students:

  • Introductions: Ask students to introduce themselves with some guided questions such as an interesting fact about themselves.
  • Case Studies and Problem-Based Learning: Case studies could provide opportunities for students to further develop analytical, problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making skills. Very similar to case studies in a classroom, online case studies start with a case prepared by instructors or students and are presented on the discussion board.
  • Dialogue Debrief: Ask students to interview someone in person. All students could ask the same questions and then post answers to the discussion board to see a range of responses to the same questions.
  • Peer Feedback: Students could review peer assignments or projects and give comments and suggestions.
  • Resource Review and Sharing: This activity asks students to review a resource or content on a website and share and discuss their learning by responding to guiding questions.

For the full list of online discussion board activities, download the PDF below.

Design Online Discussions to Promote Active Learning

This document identifies discussion board activities that encourage interaction and active learning, critical thinking, exploration and reflection among students. Some examples of activities include: discussions about case studies, collaborative problem-solving, exploring current events, responding to guest speakers, engaging in peer feedback, debates and more.

Related content

Tips for fostering effective online discussions

Learn more >>

Making online discussion boards work

Learn more >>

Online discussions

Learn more >>