Online discussions advantages and disadvantages

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Online discussions can be greatly beneficial to student learning and are often one of the first things lecturers consider when moving elements of their courses and modules online as part of a blanded learning strategy.

Online discussions need careful planning if they are to be successful, but as a precursor you might like to consider the advantages and disadvantages of online discussions.

Advantages Disadvantages
Students can participate at a time and place that suits them. Those with poor writing skills are disadvantaged.
The act of typing forces students to take time and contribute more developed ideas. Lack of facial cues can lead to misunderstanding.
Can reduce the amount of time the teacher has to give to telephone and face-to-face meetings and time in the office. Discussions can go off topic.
Shy students get more of a chance to have a say. Some students tend to too readily agree with others or paraphrase others’ contributions.
Encourages reflection and deeper thinking. Students can tend to respond to topics in an overall fashion rather than in detailed specifics.
Foreign students have more time to compose their thoughts. Students lose motivation to participate unless they perceive ‘value’ in the discussion.
Peer-peer learning encouraged. Requires consistent input from teacher.
Answers are seen by all. Lag between posts can make following a discussion difficult.
Forms a basis for creating FAQs. Technical problems (server crashes, network down time, etc).
Expert thinking about a topic can be modeled and learnt. Lack of access to computer or network handicaps some students.
Encourages big picture thinking. Reading and thinking overload.
Effective and efficient means to make whole class communication. Needs to be moderated and monitored for inappropriate postings.
Builds a learning community.

Excerpt from Macquire University’s Introduction to Online Discussions.

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