Online Strategic Discussion Forum: Models, Strategies, and Applications

Online Strategic Discussion Forum: Models, Strategies, and Applications

Tinukwa C. Boulder (University of Pittsburgh, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 36
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1306-4.ch012


This chapter explores empirical research about online discussions to identify effective strategies for designing online discussions. A secondary objective is to summarize pertinent models of online discussions to develop an integrated model of online discussions. The integrated model provides instructional designers, faculty developers, and faculty members with a coherent framework for designing, facilitating, and participating in online discussions to meet the needs of adult learners. The review of literature showed that quality design of online discussion stimulates meaningful learning and supports a community of inquiry among learners. Scholars distinguish between two types of online discussions: convention, and strategic discussions. The consensus in the literature is that effective online discussions should be intrinsically motivating, support critical thinking and self-direction, as well as promote the negotiation of meaning and co-construction of knowledge. Lastly, the instructor should play an active role in the discussion forum.
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Adult learners are capitalizing on the inherent benefits of distance education (online and blended) with “71% of higher education institutions in America making online learning a strategic priority” (Champion & Gunnlaugson, 2018, p. 705). In institutions of higher education in the United States, “14.3% (2,902,756) of students” were enrolled solely in online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2017, p. 6). Adult learners make up a large portion of higher education institution's student population with “an increased number of graduate students (30 years and older) enrolling in online or hybrid degree programs” (Best Colleges, 2019, p.1)

An adult learner is commonly defined using chronological age. Other factors that characterize adult learners include delayed postsecondary enrollment, part-time attendance, full-time work while enrolled, financial independence, single parenthood, military service, and lack of a standard high school diploma” (Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, 2007, p. 1). The literature on adult learning revealed that definitions vary. Still, the prevailing consensus is that adult learners are either 24 or 25 years of age and bring a certain level of knowledge and experience to the learning environment (IGI Global Disseminator, 2019, p.1). Moreover, adult learners are often depicted based on their learning characteristics. They are typically self-directed and goal-oriented independent learners for whom instructional content should be meaningful and have practical applications. Online learning offers a myriad of advantages to adult learners, such as flexibility in terms of time and distance (Blieck et al., 2019). Higher education scholars agree that adult learners add value to online learning environments because they “bring a wealth of experience filtered through cultural, generational, and socioeconomic differences” (Lohr & Haley, 2017, p. 11).

Consequently, online educators need to rethink how they design instructional content to leverage and capitalize on the knowledge, skills, and experiences that adult learners bring to the learning environment (Lohr & Haley, 2017; Merriam, 2008; Merriam, 2001, Delahunty, 2018). Designers creating transformational instructional experiences for adult learners should first understand the critical role of learning context.Merriam (2008) traced changes and trends in adult learning and found a shift from “individual learning to a learner in context paradigm” (p. 95) emphasizing “the sociocultural context of adult learning” (p. 94) and “making meaning” (p. 94). Therefore, educators and instructional designers (IDs) should consider the adult learner's sociocultural and professional experiences as they design and facilitate online programs and courses. In addition to placing the adult learner at the forefront of online course design, Vella (2002) in Akyol and Garrison (2009) recommended that educators and IDs address three critical aspects of learning; cognition, affect, and psychomotor when designing adult learning content and activities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Discussion Forum: A feature of a learning management system that supports course-related online discourse among students engaged in online learning. Online discussion forums can be implemented using a variety of platforms such as instant chat, video conferencing, and social media. A forum enables students to integrate different types of media to support their viewpoints.

Cognitive Presence: is represented by instructional content that helps students make and negotiate meaning based on their interpretation, understanding, and application of instructional materials. Cognitive presence focuses on knowledge construction, reflection, and co-production of content.

Active Learning: An instructional approach that educators use to foster and promote active student engagement in any learning environment. Instructors can use a variety of strategies to promote active learning, such as meaningful discussion activities, team assignments, or project- or problem-based learning.

Online Learning: A form of distance learning that occurs over the internet. It is sometimes referred to as e-learning. Online learning takes place in a non-traditional setting, allowing students to participate in learning regardless of the limitations of distance and time.

Adult Learner: An adult learner is defined “by using chronological age and additional factors such as delayed postsecondary enrollment, part-time attendance, full-time work while enrolled, financial independence, single parenthood, military service, and lack of a standard high school diploma” (Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, 2007 AU55: The in-text citation "Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, 2007" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , p. 1).

Strategic/Application Online Discussion: A type of discussion forum that requires students to respond to instructor questions and their peers’ posts. OSD is designed to scaffold learning, enrich interactions, and encourage the generation and dissemination of new ideas, thoughts, and strategies.

Teacher Presence: The instructor's ability to design, structure, implement, and facilitate cognitive content, which informs various learning activities and assessments. Teacher presence also involves the online instructor providing constructive feedback and being present in all OSDs by helping online learners make connections between discussion posts and cognitive content.

Social Presence: The instructor’s ability to develop a sense of community among learners by engaging them in meaningful and active discussions about the applications of instructional content..

Community Of Inquiry Framework: A knowledge acquisition process that requires educators and students to engage in inquiry through collaboration, discourse, and reflection. This framework embodies three types of presence: social, cognitive, and instructor.

Negotiation of Meaning: A process that both the instructor and learners undertake to clarify their understanding of course topics, typically through discourse and collaborative learning. The process requires applying, analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and creating course content.

Conventional/Traditional Online Discussion: Discussions that typically involve students responding to instructor questions and prompts, as well as one or two of their peers. The interactions tend to rely on a student-to-instructor format with intermittent student-to-student interactions.

Meaningful Learning: The learner’s ability to connect newly acquired knowledge to their prior knowledge and experiences as well as apply and relate new information to professional real-world situations.

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