The Structure of Discussions in an Online Communication Course: What Do Students Find Most Effective?

Sometimes the bane of our existence, discussion forums can be a black hole of student non-responsiveness or a glorious example of sharing and informed discussion!

This study explored student perspectives about what was effective in structuring asynchronous discussions in an online organisational communication course. Although the sample size was small (n=27) results showed several factors were crucial to student success:

  • Structured and Relevant Discussion Prompts – Discussion prompts, authentic tasks and allowing use of relevant personal narrative to relate to tasks / theories were all helpful.
  • Small Group Placement – Around 7 – 8 students was ideal, allowing for students to get to know each other and not be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of posts.
  • Visible Postings –  Despite fears of ethical issues, allowing students to see other’s posts encouraged a deeper understanding of the material.
  • Required Weekly Postings – Clear, consistent dates help routinize the task, including timeframes for posting vs replies. The timeframe allowed time to process and critically reflect upon the questions


Many of the findings offer support for the Community of Inquiry (COI) Model which incorporates social, teaching and cognitive presence as essential factors for discussion forum success.


Question: How do you consider your social, teaching and cognitive presence in discussion Forums?

If they don’t work as well as you would like, consider spending some time redesigning with some of the above strategies in mind.


Full article can be found:

The Structure of Discussions in an Online Communication Course: What Do Students Find Most Effective?   │  Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice (2017)

By Laura Jacobi


Synopsis by Cassandra Hood – Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT

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