June 15th, 2015 E-Learning

tin-can-api-picForums  are often used in elearning as an easy way to allow learners to communicate with each other, discuss any questions they may have relating to the content, and interact with the instructor.

Depending on the topic of your online course it may make sense to include a forum.

From a technical standpoint, adding forums to your courses is quite simple.  Most learning management systems make this functionality available.

But adding a forum doesn’t mean that your course offering is suddenly better. In fact, it can actually result in  a negative course perception if it isn’t implemented properly.

Should You Use Forums?

Before you attempt to add a forum, you should determine if it is even necessary. While there is no hard-set rule for when forums make sense for an elearning program, courses that do include forums general share the following characteristics:

  • Large in size (lots of course material)
  • Require learners to complete steps or projects
  • Benefit from community approach
  • Require active participation for completion

If your course matches one (or more) of these characteristics, then your learners would benefit from having a forum. However, just placing a forum on your site isn’t going to be very effective. You will need to educate people as to why the forum matters – and this takes some additional effort on your part.

Introducing Users to the Forum

One easy way to do this is during the “on-boarding” phase of your course.

Immediately after someone enrolls into the course, you should be sending them relevant communications and instructions for how to get started. Encourage learners to join the conversation by introducing themselves in the forum.

Setting this up as an action-item via email is one possibility, but another could be to dedicate your first lesson of the course to the forum. You can discuss the importance of the forum, why it is there, and how users should get started in posting. Let them know the ground rules and what to expect in return. Request that they post in an “introduction” thread, or maybe ask them a question and have them answer it in the applicable forum.

When you add a forum to an online course offering, they can often be perceived as an asset, but only if you educate users first. This will take some additional planning on your part, but in the end will result in a richer learning experience for your course participants.

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter

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Hi Justin,

I am surprised that I’m the first to reply, but I wanted to say great article and thanks for writing it.

I’m presently designing a new online education program called Ancestry Project. I am launching a few courses (free and paid) in early 2017. I think the program is really unique and I hope to create an engaging and social e-learning experience.

I assumed that a forum would be ideal to satisfy the need for communication, particularly instructor/student and student/student, but after reading this post I have a doubt about whether I need forums or not.

I believe though, as you wrote, that “introduction” thread would be invaluable so perhaps I’ll experiment with that to start.


For many good reasons we have changed our series of web sites to WordPress and are beginning to migrate our courses to LearnDash from Moodle platform. These courses use forums as an assignment in some of the lessons so there is “class interaction.” I can’t find anyway in LearnDash to make a forum lesson specific–an assignment. Even with BuddyBoss, forums are considered seperate from direct course lesson connection. Any suggestions? Or is this something needing to be added!

Avatar Lester Merkin

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