Online Discussions and Forums

Lively discussions are among the hallmarks of face-to-face courses. Skeptics of online learning argue it’s difficult to replicate their value online. As the quote states above, Carolyn Speer is not skeptic, and she seems not to be alone in seeking to refresh the discussion forum as the key source of person-to-person interaction in online courses. Educators are pursuing a variety of strategies for fostering student engagement online. In this chapter we will elaborate on the use of discussions and forums.

Lesson goals and objectives

In this lesson you will learn:

  • how discussions and forums contribute to learning
  • the difference between a discussion and a forum
  • how to use the free Tricider discussion tool in online teaching

How can online discussion boards and forums contribute to student learning?

To start with, we make the distinction between a discussion board and a forum. Although they are very similar in daily life it is necessary for an educational situation to distinguish between the terms.

A discussion platform is an environment set up by the teacher or by a group of students where predetermined learning topics can be discussed or discussed.

If this platform has been initiated by the instructor, there will almost certainly be some kind of moderation and possibly assessment of the students’ contributions. The same goes for a discussion environment set up by the students. Assessment can then take place in the form of peer review.

A forum is a free environment on the internet where the same thing can take place or where help can be sought for a particular problem. You can find many examples of forums. There are numerous forums about solving problems with your computer, or about sharing problems with health, love and whatever. Characteristic is that this is informal learning. Secondly that there is no or not always moderation or a check on the truth or reliability of the information posted.

There are different forms of discussion, each with its own objective.

To start with, a discussion can serve as a brainstorm session. Students can come up with ideas or solutions to a predetermined question or problem. They are free to associate and everyone refrains from criticising or commenting on others.

An advantage is that all students are equal to each other and that the creativity of the participants is used to the maximum. A prerequisite is a positive group climate and a strong discussion leader.

A second form can be an interview. By asking questions the participants in the discussion can find out what the views and opinions of another person are. Students can question each other or an external expert.

Better understanding of a certain complex situation. Students must then use their prior knowledge to arrive at well-founded opinions.

This form of discussion can contribute to a deep(-er) understanding of the teaching material at a productive level. In addition, this rich media work form contributes to learning to debate and is part of civic education.

Furthermore, there is the distinction between synchronous discussions, where everyone contributes to the discussion at the same time (although not necessarily in the same place) and the a-synchronous discussion, where the discussion is open for a certain period of time and the students can post contributions and respond to each other at a moment of their own choice.

Discussion platforms

Many Learning Management Systems have an application which allows for more or less structured discussions with the aim of learning. Check out the possibilities of the platform you are using.

Tricider is a free online platform that offers the possibility of online discussions. Before you start using it, check out the GPDR regulations in your country.

You make a new tricision by formulating a question or proposition. The teacher shares the URL of the discussion with the students. They can add ideas and name the pros and cons of each other’s ideas. Finally, they can vote for the best idea or dominant opinion.;jsessionid=egKVbQ8-QcQbA3FbFAE4OQ


  1. The teacher offers a theme, adjusts the settings and invites the students.
    If desired, pages can also be created with multiple questions/themes/theme words.
  2. An internet address is automatically generated (URL) on which the students can add ideas.
  • Fellow students can leave behind reactions and add images if they like.
  • Students can add arguments pro and con and respond to reactions from others.
  • The discussion goes on. Finally students can vote for the best idea.

What can you do with Tricider in your class?

A few examples

Learn how to argue

Prior to a classroom discussion on a particular topic, students gather possible opinions with accompanying arguments.

Inventory of ideas

Think for example of a class outing, school trip, camp, Christmas dinner, Easter breakfast etcetera.  Students can add photos, videos and links to convince the others of their proposal.

Preparation workweek

Students make proposals for highlights to be seen during city trips. Students can then use the voting option to indicate their preference.

Mentor lessons

The mentor polls how the class is doing (atmosphere, feeling at home, homework). In case of opinions, you can turn off the voting options so that a safe atmosphere remains.

Foreign languages

Learning to argue in the foreign language on a variety of subjects.

Brainstorming with colleagues

Prior to a meeting, you can think about a certain subject with colleagues. During the meeting you can then make choices more quickly because all the ideas have already been inventoried.

Tricider offers the possibility to embed pages on your own website or weblog.

3. Creating a login

Using Tricider is free. Just go to

Login: click on Login in the upper right corner. Create a login (either directly or via Google or Facebook)

Note that an account allows the administrator to edit and manage his statements in one central place.

Students do not need an account, but they get the url of the teacher to respond.