What To Do When Online Discussion Dies

What To Do When Online Discussion Dies
Summary: Ever had a discussion forum or social chat fall silent? Students that are deeply engaged in forums and chat have a more enjoyable experience and are more likely to complete their course successfully. Here's how you can reignite engagement when online discussion dies.

What Participants And Facilitators Can Do When Online Discussion Dies

Most eLearning facilitators have, at some point, asked themselves how they can get students to engage more in live chat or discussion forums. One of my team recently found herself in that precise situation. She sent me a message saying “I'm currently in one course and facilitating another – and neither group is really interacting or responding to each other. I'm not sure what I could be doing to make this easier”. The good news is, when online discussion dies it is possible to resurrect it. Here’s how.

5 Ways Participants Can Encourage Greater Engagement

Some participants might believe that it is solely the facilitators responsibility to persuade students to engage more in discussion forums and social chat, but this is not the case. Conscientious students will understand that there is great value in learning from others who are also taking the course, and it can be very frustrating for them when this doesn’t happen simply because forums have fallen silent (as in the case of my colleague).

If you are a participant in an online course, increasing student engagement in forums and live chat is not impossible. However, it can be tricky because you simply don’t have the same level of influence over other participants as you would if you were the facilitator. Never-the-less you do have some influence, and there are several legitimate ways you can leverage this influence to encourage greater participation from your peers. Here are the 5 I suggested to my colleague:

  1. Lead by example and post frequently – i.e. your own posts and posts in response to others.
  2. Ask open ended questions and write a polite follow-up post, re-stating the question, if you don’t get an answer.
  3. Disagree with someone’s view and explain why. Or, if you don’t disagree, play the devil’s advocate and put forward an alternative viewpoint anyway.
  4. Leave a polite post expressing your desire/need to hear from and learn from others.
  5. Email the course facilitator privately and politely express your desire to see more interaction in the forums.

13 Ways Facilitators Can Encourage Greater Engagement 

Stimulating discussion in eLearning forums and social chat is primarily the responsibility of the course facilitator. Effective facilitators understand that the more deeply engaged students are online, the more enjoyable it is for everyone. More importantly, deeply engaged students are also more likely to complete the course successfully. But what can a facilitator do when forums just fall silent? Here are some effective strategies that I have found helpful in encouraging engagement in discussion forums and on social chat:

  1. Ensure that participants are aware that they are required to engage online in order to pass the course. They may need a gentle reminder. Address specific participants privately via email if required.
  2. Ensure that all students know how to use the required tools in your Learning Management System or social platform.
  3. Remind students that they are there to help each other out – sharing knowledge means we all win.
  4. Make sure you respond to posts frequently and within 24 hours.
  5. Ask a controversial question. Ask students to take one “side” of the argument, explain their position, and then respond to a classmate with an competing point of view.
  6. Ask for a concrete example when student's make an observation.
  7. Ask for alternative viewpoints or solutions to problems raised.
  8. Ask students to compare their post with those of others. How are they similar? How are they different?
  9. Post new, but relevant, material in the forum –such as a short video– and ask for more feedback.
  10. Ask participants to turn on their Learning Management System email notifications to remind them to respond to new posts.
  11. Send a regular email or text message reminder for participants to jump online and engage.
  12. Invite a guest facilitator to participate –an expert in the field–, then invite participants to make the most of the guest facilitator’s expertise.
  13. In your post course review, ask yourself about the quality of your forum questions. Re-word them as necessary.

Final Word

Each of these strategies are a reasonable and effective way to leverage your influence, either as a participant or as a facilitator, to increase engagement in eLearning discussion forums and social chat. Remember, deeply engaged students make the course more enjoyable for everyone, and they are also much more likely to complete your course successfully. Which of these strategies would you find most helpful in your situation?