Engaging Learners in Online Discussion

Card Type: Technology
Difficulty: Intermediate
Download Card (PDF)


An online discussion provides opportunities for students to engage in a vibrant learning community. The discussion provides a structure that supports instruction with asynchronous interaction.


  • Learners achieve deeper critical thinking as they develop group engagement over several days, which challenges and encourages each participant’s thinking.
  • Learners develop a sense of safety within the group by experiencing a high level of commitment in the community.
  • Instructors have more opportunities for giving feedback that helps learners continuously improve.


  • Focus the discussion by providing guiding questions in advance and sharing ground rules for online etiquette.
  • Establish a schedule for the entire online discussion. Within that schedule, give deadlines to:
    1. Prepare:Complete assigned reading, viewing, researching, etc. (in a one-week discussion, approximately 2 days).
    2. Initiate:Initiate the group discussion with an initial post to give the group a strong start (approximately 1 day).
    3. Converse:Reply to peers (approximately three days). In a large group, have learners reply to a specified small number of colleagues so that the task does not overwhelm.
    4. Synthesize:Participate in an instructor-guided synthesis (approximately two days).

Lessons Learned

  • Instructor participation: Be present for learners at strategic times (e.g., when you set the stage at the beginning of the conversation and when you synthesize their learning at the close of the conversation). Refrain from posting during the period in which learners are posting to each other. Learners typically defer to the expert and reduce their own postings.
  • Assessment tools: consider using word counts for initial and synthesis postings and share a discussion rubric. This helps learners regulate their contributions and gives definition to the instructor’s expectations.


  • Students can engage inauthentically by echoing other posts.
  • Instructor engagement takes time and preparation.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *