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RESOURCE: 7 Tips To Spark Online Discussions – eLearning Industry

Some of the most amazing eLearning experiences happen spontaneously during online discussions. Online learners have the power to connect with their peers and see things from a new perspective. In this article, I’ll share 7 tips on how to spark online discussions, so that you can make your eLearning course collaborative, communicative, and engaging.

How To Spark Online Discussions

There’s nothing like a lively online discussion to get the ideas flowing and igniting the creative spark. But how do you offer your online learners the chance to interact with their peers in eLearning environments? The answer is through eLearning forums, blogs, social media groups, and other collaborative online platforms. Here are some helpful tips for starting effective online discussions in your eLearning course.

1. Create An “Ice Breaker” Page

The “ice breaker” page takes introductions a step further. Create a list of ten questions or prompts that newcomers must answer. For example, asking them about their favorite book or quote. It may seem trivial, but it gives online learners the opportunity to get to know their peers. Of course, the questions shouldn’t be too personal or intrusive. The point is to find common ground or similar interests that lead to meaningful online discussions. An online learner notices that one of their peers likes the same hobbies. That breaks the ice and sparks an online conversation. Before long, others join the online discussion and form a deeper connection. When it’s time to talk about the eLearninng course topics, they are already familiar with the people in their group. Thus, they are more likely to open up and actively participate.

2. Pose Thought Provoking Questions

Again, nothing too controversial or divisive. Your thought provoking questions should encourage online learners to reflect and discuss the topic, not create a great divide. Open-ended questions are usually best, as they exercise lateral thinking skills. There is no right or wrong answer, and everyone gets the chance to share their thoughts and insights. These eLearning questions allow every member of the group to explore their own cognitions and see things from a fresh perspective.

3. Give Online Learners A Conversation Starter

Sometimes it just takes a bit of kindling to ignite the online discussion. I refer to them as “conversation starters”. It might be that online learners don’t know what to talk about or are uncomfortable starting the online discussion themselves. In other words, they need an idea seed to get the ball rolling. This may be in the form of a writing prompt or even an eLearning activity that leads to an online discussion. For example, a branching scenario featuring controversial topics or characters that online learners can discuss.

4. Promote Your Online Discussion Platform

Learners need to know where they can interact with their peers. Otherwise, they won’t be able to be part of the online discussion in the first place. Thus, it’s important to create a list of the online discussion platforms learners can use throughout the eLearning course. For example, a link list that includes your blog site, online forum, and social media groups. You should also direct them to the proper online discussions platform at the end of each eLearning activity. If you want them to respond to a prompt after reading a passage, embed the link to the relevant blog page. One of the hurdles that often stands in the way is ambiguity. So, point them in the right direction and tell them what they need to do to spark the online discussion.

5. Develop A Subject Matter Schedule

You don’t want to run out of topics halfway through the eLearning course. Likewise, you want to give your online learners time to reflect on the ideas. A subject matter schedule checks both boxes by giving you a road map to follow. Create a “post” calendar that highlights every writing prompt or subject that you’ll cover in the upcoming weeks or months. Also include eLearning assignments, activities, and online modules that correlate with the talking points. There are plenty of free online scheduling tools where you can post group reminders, such as Google Calendar. Just be sure to update it on a regular basis to reflect any changes and keep your online learners informed.

6. Tie It Into An eLearning Course Assignment

One of the most effective ways to spark an online discussion is to make it mandatory. However, once the word “mandatory” shows up in the eLearning course description motivation is sure to plummet. Which is why you should tie the online discussion into an eLearning assignment. It’s a more subtle approach that also increases online learner participation. As an example, invite online learners to watch an eLearning video or listen to a Subject Matter Expert’s podcast. When they’re finished, provide them with a list of questions or talking points that they can discuss online. Alternatively, you can post writing prompts on your eLearning course blog that online learners must answer each week. Their peers then have the chance to leave replies and ask questions regarding their response.

7. Clarify Expectations And Goals

I save the most important tip for last, and it serves as a foundation for your entire online collaboration strategy. It’s essential to clarify expectations and goals before you spark the online discussion. Develop clear guidelines for how online learners should participate, how often, and why. They need some incentive, and knowing the benefits can increase their motivation. Post the online discussion netiquette on your main blog page and pin it to the top of your eLearning forum thread. If an issue arises, online learners can refer to these guidelines to solve the conflict and get back on topic. Lastly, appoint a moderator who can oversee the online discussion and keep tangents to a minimum. They can also serve as a support online resource for newcomers who need help getting started. For example, if they have a problem logging into the online discussion platform or don’t know how to reply to a comment.

Are you ready to spark the online discussion and increase learner participation? With these 7 tips, you have the power to get your online learners involved and interacting with their peers. Regardless of where they are or what they need to know, online discussions can offer the support and feedback they require.

Are you following the golden rules of online discussions? Read the article 10 Netiquette Tips For Online Discussions to learn everything you need about the netiquette code you should establish so that your online learners know the exact rules for participating in online discussions.

via 7 Tips To Spark Online Discussions – eLearning Industry.

Written by

Brian is a research scientist and educational technologist. He helped transform Pfizer’s Medical Education Group and previously served in educational leadership roles at HealthAnswers, Inc.; Acumentis, LLC.; Cephalon; and Wyeth. He taught graduate medical education programs at Arcadia University for 10 years. Dr. McGowan recently authored the book "#socialQI: Simple Solutions for Improving Your Healthcare" and has been invited to speak internationally on the subject of information flow, technology, and learning in healthcare.

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