The primary key to success in any online learning program is the ability and willingness to be an interactive participant in the process. Nowhere is the interactive nature of a distance learning course more profound than in the arena of the discussion forum. Here, the instructor can post topics for discussion, students can pose questions or concerns to be addressed by the class, and you, as an individual student, can do your part to network with other students in an effort to draw as much content from the course as possible.
As with any traditional classroom setting, there are certain guidelines and preparation tips to help the online learner make the most of the discussion forum experience. It all starts with approaching the course ready to learn and work hard. It’s important to delve into the meat of the coursework as soon as possible, either a few days before the official first day of class, or as soon after the start of class as possible. Read the syllabus and get an idea early on about the direction the class will be taking. Start your reading assignments right away and check into the lecture boards posted by the instructor at least every other day. Familiarize yourself with every aspect of the coursework so that you will be a valuable asset to any discussion forum in which you participate.
Don’t wait for someone else to initiate a discussion in the classroom forum. Show your initiative and enthusiasm by being the first one to bring a controversial topic to the forum. Start a lively discussion based on information you’ve gathered from the course text, from current events that pertain to the course or simply from your own very active thought processes. Every time you make a contribution to the forum you should end your input with a new question to spark additional comments. Discussion forums tend to fall flat rather quickly if there is little or no fresh input on a steady basis.
The days leading up to an exam or the days just following one are a great time to bring up a wide range of discussion topics. You are sure to generate a lot of interest among the other students if you’re the first to lead a discussion on one of the more complicated concepts involved in the class. After an exam, the postmortem of the forum can provide the perfect opportunity to solidify an idea that caused widespread confusion.
Discussion forums are meant to enhance the educational experience. They often provide the only avenue of interaction between students in the online environment who may be completely separated by physical distance. As such, they are a vital and valuable part of the distance learning experience.