In being an online student working on my PhD and teaching online classes over the past few years, I have noticed that most of the learning occurs in the online class discussions. More specifically, critical thinking skills are mostly developed this way. Please read my previous blog post on critical thinking, “Critical Thinking Skills for Online Students:”  Here is some research that proves this (MacKnight, 2000):[1].pdf

Different online institutions and or online instructors will have different requirements for you to receive full credit for the class discussion portion of your grade, but be prepared for spending a few hours a week answering the initial discussion questions using the course readings and outside documented research to support all of your answers, responses, ideas, information, and opinions. Also, to respond to your fellow students discussion responses as well which usually counts as participation points.

In most of my online classes, I require that each student answer two discussion questions by Wednesday of each week and then make at least two substantial discussion responses in each of the two discussions on separate days throughout the week.  This makes sure the discussion is ongoing throughout the week and prevents each student from just logging into their online classes during one night and completing all work at once. Real learning does not occur by the latter, but by logging in multiple times throughout the week.

I often notice that many online students are not as active as they should be in the online class discussions. Many students don’t meet these very detailed requirements and often lose many points which often prevents them from getting the grade they often desire as well as decrease their overall learning and future professional career opportunities and goals. Some students may dread online class discussion because they may be boring and hard to follow. In my online classes, I like to “spice” them up by trying to make them as interactive, current, and relevant as possible. I like to add YouTube videos, apps., games, pictures, images, and links to current events. I also like to play devil’s advocate, introduce very controversial and debatable topics, and use the Socratic Method (the who, what, when, where, why, and how of everything). I often encourage my students to do the same and always lead by example. I find this often to be contagious. Also, following good online netiquette is always expected. Please read my past blog post on “The Top 10 Netiquette Rules in Online Education:

And finally, what I enjoy most about online discussions is the fact that every student is required to post their thoughts and ideas on the topic. In traditional classes, one can keep quiet and never say anything during the whole class and still pass the class. How do you like participating in online discussions? Are you making the most of them? How can you improve your discussions so you increase your overall learning and critical thinking skills? Please let me know via Twitter @onlinefac

Please stay tuned until next week when I blog on another exciting and innovative topic in online education!



MacKnight, C.B. (2000). Teaching critical thinking through online discussions. Edcause (4) 38-41.