The role of online discussion forums in “teaching” online

Som Naidu
Learning and Teaching Services, Charles Sturt University, Thurgoona

With growing interest in open access and open educational resources, there is an increasing cacophony around the suggestion that learners can engage in study anytime, anywhere and from any place with the help of open educational resources and with on demand support from a distributed network of tutors (see Daniel, 2011; Taylor, & Mackintosh, 2011). The only essential infrastructure requirement for this mode of education would be a reliable access to the Internet and the Web.

Is that so? If so — then where is the teaching in this model of education, and who is responsible for it? Is open access to open educational resources all that is required for learning? Moreover, are all learners capable of learning anything by themselves with minimal structure and guidance as long as they have access to resources and community (

Effective, efficient and engaging teaching is neither a highly structured activity, nor an open-ended activity with minimal structure and guidance. It is in fact, an orchestration of carefully designed learning activities in which educators choreograph the learning experiences of students in close alignment with the expected learning outcomes for them, and with a fine balance of structure and guidance. This kind of teaching is about putting “students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions”, and great teachers have always known that (see Robinson & Aronica, 2009, p. 238)

In online educational settings, text-based asynchronous online discussion forums play a critical role in promoting such an approach to teaching. In such settings, the discussion forum is where the ‘teaching’ takes place. It is where all that is possible in the face-to-face classroom takes place. These include communication among students, and between teachers and the students about all aspects of learning and teaching.

However, the discussion forum is often a poorly utilized tool. Online educators often complain about the lack of student participation and engagement in text-based online discussion forums. Students on the other hand find such discussions, like a bad face-to-face conversation, and not that helpful.

The problem lies in the design and orchestration of asynchronous online discussion forums. Time poor and time jealous students shun these areas because quite often there is no need for them to be there, and they see no or little benefit to them in being there.


This presentation will explore:

  1. The role of online discussion forums in learning and teaching online;
  2. The role and communicative affordances of asynchronous online discussion forums for learning and teaching; and
  3. Suggest and explore models and steps in the process for designing and orchestrating these affordances.

Relevant symposium themes:

  • Pedagogical underpinnings of collaborative learning and implications for online learning;
  • Student characteristics and engagement through online communication (including issues of diversity and issues specific to certain types of students such as young children, older people, indigenous students etc).


Daniel, J. (2011). Transforming Asia through open and distance learning [Keynote address]. Paper presented at the Asian Association of Open Universities 25th Annual Conference, Penang, Malaysia.;

Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything. Melbourne, Australia: Allen Lane (Penguin Group).

Taylor, J. C., & Mackintosh, W. (2011). Creating an Open Educational Resources university and the pedagogy of discovery. Open Praxis, Special edition, 24-29.

Click below for the power point presentation:

Som Naidu_Role of discussion forums in teaching


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