When Ben and I set up our very first online course a few years ago, we wanted to provide an interactive environment in which our course participants were motivated by a sense of community.
After all, we tend to learn better when we’re learning with others. Ideas are exchanged, communication skills are developed, and the entire learning experience is enhanced through active participation and engagement with other students.
However, this is often a challenge online, particularly for self-paced courses in which live discussion or question and answer sessions aren’t an option.
Ben and I found a community forum the perfect solution to allow our course participants the opportunity to engage with us, the instructors, and other students. Forums can provide many other benefits to your students’ e-learning experience as well.
Forums can be used to…
…post course announcements.
One of the most effective uses of our forum became the “Announcements” area. As our content was changing fairly often, announcement threads allowed us to keep course participants in the loop when we updated material which it may have been helpful to go back through. These threads can include any updates which course participants may need to review.
…build a community-maintained resource reference.
Another great way to utilize a forum in conjunction with your course is to create an ongoing list of resources related to your course content. As you or your students find information which supplements your content, it can be added to the forum for reference by others.
…develop a sense of community.
Forums are a great way to provide your course participants with the opportunity to introduce themselves. It can also lead to relationships which may be mutually beneficial beyond the classroom. As we’ve seen from our own experience, “Introduction” threads can be a great place for networking if your course content is related to professional development or training.
…reduce instructor input.
One of the single biggest benefits to hosting a forum in conjunction with our training course was giving students the ability to help one another. In self-paced courses particularly, some students move ahead faster than others and may be able to share their insights or answer questions which the instructor may otherwise be required to answer. A word of caution is in order here. These types of threads do need to be closely moderated to ensure that accurate information is being posted.
There are many other uses for forums in an e-learning environment as well. They can be utilized for public question and answer sessions, study groups, sharing personal experiences, or for students to solicit feedback from one another on assignments.
Forums also tend to elicit high-quality discussions. Participants have the opportunity to think through and research their responses, providing thoughtful insights.
Now it’s your turn! How have you used community forums to enhance your online curriculum? Let us know in the comments section of this blog post!