A number of developed countries have started online educational programs and more are likely to follow suit. The study by Arulchelvan (2011) helps highlight some key concepts in developing strong online discussion. Some of these concepts are content based while others are more technology driven. Having the right design and development are important for ensuring that the forums stimulate learning.
Online forums can be even more beneficial than traditional methods of learning. The ability to discuss concepts in a 24/7 environment allows for students to have constant access to each other. When there is full engagement this ability encourages flexibility and interest in the educational process.
Forums can promote critical thinking, problem solving and knowledge construction. Critical thinking is a process of judging premises and finding alternative meanings. Problem solving encourages solutions and knowledge construction creates the framework for knowledge. Each contributes and fosters the other.
The primary job of the instructor is to use their knowledge to foster individual and social learning within the forum. This can be found through the asking of questions, having students respond to other classmates, and moving discussions along to conclusions. It requires a skill set based in topical knowledge and technology functionality.
Instructors should avoid knowledge overload. This occurs when there is too much information in the forums that take away from the central knowledge component of the forum. Putting too much information within the forum may confuse and disperse the knowledge to a point students cannot make meaning from it.
His work has come to a few conclusions for online forums:
Visual Design: Ensuring that visual design is appealing through easy to use, attractive, and functional design. It is beneficial to allow emotional icons for expression.
Usability: Encouraging proper usability that encourages easy responses and work completion. Links, resources, and other tools should be integrated and easy to access.
Hottest Threads: Make it easy to find new posts by using an icon. Use threads with the most responses in other courses.
Context Structure: Each forum should be organized by content topic and sub-topic for easy understanding.
Visual Effects: Allow for the uploading of files, link sharing, and video posting for students.
Arulchevan, S. (2011). Online interactive forums as a learning tool among the media students-an analysis. Turkish Journal of Distance Education, 12 (4).