Discussion Boards Your Students Will Love

Use Harmonize discussion boards to encourage more frequent and thoughtful engagement in online courses

Getting students to engage in online discussions might feel impossible…

Harmonize makes it a cinch.

Increase student engagement

Harmonize shows students and instructors everything that’s happening, at a glance. As a result, it’s easy for students to discover content and for instructors to monitor student engagement. Reactions and tagging make collaborating in online discussions feel easy and natural for students.

Keep students on the ball by providing more structure

Milestones, or multiple due dates, help students remember deadlines and engage now instead of at the last minute. Use them to set clear expectations, remind students of approaching due dates, and pull them back into the conversation.

Chat and polls

Increase interactions between students and instructors

Encourage more vibrant and frequent interactions by giving every student a pathway to participation. Use annotations to provide richer feedback and facilitate peer-to-peer learning. Instructors can also spark new conversations using chat, polls, and Q&A boards.

Everything you need to take your discussion boards to the next level.

Grid view

Gauge student engagement at a glance. The Harmonize layout makes it easy to see which conversations have the most engagement and what students are saying.

flag icon Milestones

Lend structure to your course experience. Milestones help students see what’s expected of them, and when, so they make substantive, on-time contributions.

rich multimedia icon Rich multimedia

Why should students only be able to post text? Harmonize supports video, images, audio, and embedded URLs, so students can finally express themselves.

Q&A Boards icon Q&A

Let students answer each others’ questions. Leave Q&A boards up all term to avoid repeated questions and help students share information in one place.

polls icon Annotations

Adding annotations to content promotes peer-to-peer learning, richer instructor feedback, and deeper engagement with course material.

reactions & tagging icon Tagging

Pull students into the conversation by tagging them directly. Students and instructors have the ability to tag anybody in the class.


Keep students on task and help them meet deadlines with notifications. Add a custom notification for the whole class or individual students.

chat bubble icon Chat

Using Harmonize Chat, instructors and students can communicate in real time. It’s easy for students to see which classmates are online and begin a new chat.


Use polls to gauge understanding, assess students, or review content. You can even use a poll to take attendance. Run a poll on its own or add it to any discussion.


Students can use emojis to respond to their classmates. Reactions lower the barrier to responding to peers and help more students contribute.

Discussion Boards For Students

What is a discussion board? Online discussion boards, also known by various other names such as discussion forum, online group discussion forum, message board, or online forum, is a term for any online “bulletin board” where you can leave messages and expect to see responses to your messages. For instructors, these message boards serve as an online discussion platform for students in online courses — an asynchronous communication tool that allows students to collaborate with others through posting thoughts or answering questions outside of a physical classroom.

Lively online discussion platforms as well as student-to-student and small-group collaboration are among the hallmarks of face-to-face courses. But when it comes to learning online, some argue it’s difficult to replicate the value of these interactions. While a staple of strictly online courses for years, the online discussion board is finally finding traction in both traditional and blended courses — leveraged as collaboration activities for students online that work to reinforce course concepts and engage students in deeper reflection outside the classroom.

The online discussion board is proving to be a powerful tool. It fosters a sense of community and encourages student-to-student interaction, which research demonstrates improves learner engagement and achievement. Discussion boards for students give all learners the opportunity to expand and clarify their understanding of key ideas. It moves beyond the passive learning forms of reading and listening and allows the learner to actively engage with their peers and instructor.

Benefits Of Online Discussion Forums For Students

There are several benefits of online discussion forums for students, including better academic outcomes and behaviors for students.

In fact, results from a landmark meta-analysis that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that social and emotional learning (SEL):

That said, not many institutions are able to fully realize the benefits of discussion boards in online learning because they continue to rely on the basic built-in discussion forums of learning management systems. But with the right technology, online discussions can fuel meaningful interaction outside of the classroom.

In fact, the online discussion board can be used to build the kind of student engagement that leads to improved learning outcomes. New research shows that participation in discussion forums is related to better course outcomes in both traditional courses and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In a recent pilot study conducted by WGU Labs, the College Innovation Network (CIN) found strong promise for increased course engagement and improved learning outcomes at Piedmont Community College, when different online discussion tools were used both in the classroom and asynchronously. These tools allowed instructors to pull on a broader set of discussion techniques to increase student-to-instructor and student-to-student interactions. Let’s explore some of those techniques.

Best Practices Online Discussion Forum For Students

Here are just a few of the best practices in online discussion forums for students. These strategies are designed to increase student engagement in your discussions. 

Adopt Real-World, Emotion-Based Prompts

While researchers have found that higher-level questions won’t necessarily generate higher-level responses, they also observed that students associate discussion quality with active instructor participation, instructor feedback, and creative discussion board ideas and questions.

The opposite of right or wrong discussion prompts, thoughtful discussion questions are one of the most important factors in creating an engaging discussion board. Craft questions that give students the opportunity to form opinions, build on each other’s insights, as well as provide opportunity for dialogue and debate. This approach gives students a safe space to articulate opinions, understand competing perspectives, and compose thoughtful responses — similar to a classroom setting. It’s also good practice for figuring out how to resolve conflict.

Set Expectations and Guide Peer Interaction

Be clear in communicating online discussion activities and expectations to students. One of the most effective ways to set expectations and provide clear guidance is through the use of multiple due dates or milestones. With milestones, instructors can specify a number of posts by a certain date as well as additional responses and reactions by another date. This guides students through discussions and keeps them on track, while simultaneously spurring ongoing interactions. 

Expand the Ways Students Can Respond

When you consider that many of today’s students say they learn by doing, and 80% of today’s teens use YouTube and video to learn something new or improve skills that will help them prepare for the future, it’s a no-brainer that incorporating multimedia will better engage students. When you’re more inclusive of how students learn, you’ll also see improvement in the quality of responses on your online discussion forum for students. The options for how and in what medium to respond is allowing students to express themselves in their own ways, moving away from transactional toward more meaningful exchanges. Video, audio, text, and images are good ways to encourage this.

Implementing discussion boards that are more inclusive of different learning modalities has been effective in creating connection and community online, while building student engagement.

Discussion Boards Examples

There are many discussion board examples as well as discussion board feedback examples you can leverage. You can find relevant questions here and use these online discussion examples to craft questions.

Just as important, you’ll want to create an interactive discussion. An interactive discussion example includes fostering a space for students to create social presence, interact, and practice leadership — doing that will help create a more interactive space.

For example, research from the University of Alabama shows that student participation increases when students facilitate online discussions. And in a Baran and Correia’s (2009) study of an online graduate course, researchers found that whether these peer-facilitation methods included highly organized facilitation or practice-oriented facilitation in asynchronous discussion, the methods kept students engaged with the material and relying on student-to-student interaction instead of just student-to-instructor interaction.

Consider varying the group size of discussions too. It creates opportunities for more students to lead discussions, and it also helps those students who are more comfortable sharing in small groups. But to create a space that can support these kinds of activities, you have to have the right tools.

Another interactive discussion example includes tools with a user experience that mimic familiar experiences often have the highest usability — think features like tagging/mentions, reactions, in-app and email notifications, and social media-like interfaces. If a student or instructor logs in and can connect the screen they’re viewing to something they are familiar with from their personal lives, they’re more likely to engage. Don’t make technology one of the barriers to participation. Capabilities for creating smaller and student-led discussion groups, tagging instructors or other students, and flagging questions for more feedback all lead to increased student activity and engagement.

Discussion Board Software

Thankfully, discussion board platforms for students have evolved since their early days. For example, the ability for instructors to better organize discussion threads as well as the introduction of more modern social-based communication elements like mentions, have made them much more attractive. However, the challenges of many traditional discussion board software tools remain.

Discussion forums, like those found in most LMSs, have become a standard way for students to interact with course content. These forums are typically text-based and can be challenging to extract deep engagement from students. They are also notoriously difficult for instructors to track and grade student participation. In fact, in a survey of over 350 educators, 61% said that they spend more than two hours each week attempting to grade discussions, noting their biggest challenge on this front was searching through threads from last-minute participation.

From a usability and visual design standpoint, the way an LMS presents discussions is challenging and unengaging. Text-heavy threads and conversations are tough to follow, and the LMS itself doesn’t do a great job of pushing students toward being better collaborators nor instructors toward being better facilitators. The origin of discussion forums in learning management systems — institution’s centralized course management system — makes sense. However, while the LMS has evolved significantly over the years and continues to be essential for supporting teaching & learning, they’re hard pressed to try and do it all.

A discussion board app, Harmonize is a suite of digital discussion and collaboration tools that integrate seamlessly with your LMS to facilitate a more engaging online learning experience. These tools focus attention on the activities that drive engagement, including:

These tools increase the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions and include:

It’s everything an instructor needs to increase student engagement in online discussions and promote inclusive learning, while saving time and eliminating manual tasks.

Additional Resources

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