Documentation:Learning Platforms/Pedagogies/Discussions/What is it

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What is Online Discussion?

Online discussions provide a space for learners to connect with others around a theme, idea or concept. Discussion offers learners an opportunity to share their reflections, pose and respond to questions, open up dialogue and learn from the varied perspectives of the group. Learners are often motivated to participate in discussion when they are invited to:

  • respond to a provocative question, theme or idea.
  • summarize the theme or key takeaways from the week.
  • lead a discussion on a theme of interest.
  • pose questions to the group.

There are two types of discussion, synchronous and asynchronous. Asynchronous discussion does not require participants to be online at the same time. Participants can post at a time that suits them. Comments, discussion boards, social media tools (like Twitter) and discussion wiki pages are all examples of asynchronous discussion. Conversely, synchronous discussion requires participants to be online at the same time to participate together. Web conferencing and VOIP (voice over internet protocol) services like Skype is an example of synchronous discussion tools.

How Does It Support Learning?

Online discussion supports learning in the following ways:

  • Broadening thinking. As learners are exposed to multiple perspectives, they begin to move from simplistic, black and white thinking to more complex ways of thinking. Student development theory proposes that as learners move beyond the quest for the "right" answer and begin to see multiple perspectives as valid, this paves the way for them confidently enter into dialogue with peers and instructors and begin to construct their own knowledge (Baxter-Magolda,1992; Ambrose,et-al,2010)[1][2]
  • Teaching each other. When students facilitate a discussion, respond to questions and present their ideas, they are engaging in forms of teaching that deepen their own learning (Doyle, 2008).[3].
  • Practice and feedback. The ability to communicate effectively and listen attentively are two of the most important attributes that learners will take forward into their lives and careers. Online discussion helps students learn to articulate their ideas clearly and organize and support their views. Thoughtful responses to the posts of others takes effort and practice at deriving meaning and extracting key messages in order to provide meaningful feedback to peers. Through feedback provided by both instructors and peers, learners begin to "see points of view they may not have considered, to be respectful of views they do not share and to consider changing their views based on solid research and data presented by others." (Doyle, 2008)[3]
  • Social context for meaning-making. Discussions can help reinforce ideas and expose misconceptions. Experienced learners and faculty (through their comments and responses) can tackle misconceptions and work to guide students through a process if conceptual change so that a solid foundation for new learning can be laid. (Ambrose, et al, 2010).[2]
  1. Baxter-Magolda (1992) Knowing and Reasoning in College: Gender related patterns in students intellectual development.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ambrose et al 2010: How Learning Works: 7 Research Based Principles for Smart Teaching
  3. 3.0 3.1 Doyle, 2008: Helping Students Learn in a Learner Centered Environment