Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Lesson 5



Creating Distance Learning Courses

Lesson Three
Using Technology to Encourage Communication

Academic Discussions: Utilizing the Best Format for Your Purposes

In this lesson you will learn about different types of academic discussions and their varying formats. You'll also begin thinking about the appropriateness of each for your subject and learners.


Book Icon Required Reading
  • Read through the following lesson, keeping in mind your particular topic area and potential learner population. After your lesson, we will have an online discussion on this topic.

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • name the four types of academic discussion formats;
  • describe each format as synchronous/asynchronous and personal/text interactions;
  • list 2 advantages and disadvantages of each type of format;
  • discuss which format is appropriate for your learners and topic; and
  • discuss which format would be most inappropriate for your learners and topic.

Part 1: Introduction to Discussion Forums: Forum Types

Electronic discussion forums can be created to serve a variety of purposes. How many forums of what kind you decide to incorporate in any given course depends on the format of the course, its content, the type of assignments and evaluations, the nature of the interaction desired among learners, and the instructional timeline.

Here are the major types of forums and their purposes:

  • Student Biographies - Learners post a short biographical narrative as an introduction to themselves, sometimes including a photograph and personal information. Purposes: create a learning community; decrease sense of isolation
  • Student Lounge - Learners can post personal messages of a non-academic nature in this kind of forum, much as they would chat in a classroom before or after class. Purposes: create community; decrease sense of isolation; channel non-academic discourse into a separate communication area
  • Resource Collection - Learners post to this kind of forum to share resources they discover as they work through course materials and activities. Anything in digital format can be shared in an electronic forum, including word-processed documents, graphics, photos, Web addresses, and sound or video files. Purposes: disseminate information widely; facilitate conversation about course materials; provide chances to contribute
  • Project Archive - Students post project ideas, outlines, and/or completed projects for review and comment. Teacher may include one sample project as a model to follow. Purpose: provide chances to contribute
  • Academic Discussion - The main forum for posting course-related, academic discussion in response to course assignments and activities. Purposes: facilitate conversation about course materials; provide chances to contribute; encourage expression of diverse viewpoints

For this lesson, we will focus on this last function: academic discussions.

Part 2: Four types of Academic Discussion Formats

There are four primary formats used for academic discussion purposes. They are:

  • In-Class Discussion - This is the classroom discussion you are all familiar with.
  • Email via a Listserv - This is a discussion conducted via email where the messages are automatically sent out to all participants who are registered on the list. These messages appear throughout the day in each participant's regular email box.
  • Threaded Discussion on the Web - This is a discussion that appears to be similar to email, but the messages are posted on a specific web site. Participants must log in to that site to receive or post any messages.
  • Live Chat - This is a discussion that is done on-line, but all participants are logged in at the same time. The messages appear as a running commentary in text.

Go on to Lesson 3: Page 2
Go on to Lesson 3, Part 2