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Using Discussion Forums

This page has been updated to reflect the Moodle 3.9 upgrade

***The content on this page will be continually updated.

Last updated: July 18, 2023, 8:57 a.m.

Online discussion forums, also known as discussion boards, are an environment in Moodle where students have the opportunity to engage with their classmates on course content in a series of messages that are visible to everyone in their class or group.

Moodle allows for the option to put students into groups, which can facilitate group work activities, and allow them to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas. Discussion forums:

  • Allow for equal opportunities for all students to participate
  • Promote a discussion with different perspectives
  • Give students the opportunity to think about topics and provide more thoughtful answers
  • Give the teacher feedback about students’ thinking
  • Promote peer learning

Moodle Forum types

Moodle has several types of Discussion Forums that you can choose when setting up for forum, but the two most popular types are as follows:

This type of forum provides a prompt on the main discussion page for students. When students add a reply, it will appear as a new thread on the main discussion page. Users will have to click on the link to read the text of the thread. Within the thread, users can also reply to the specific thread.

Screenshot of a standard forum where the author posted 5 discussion topics

This type of forum is good if you want students interacting with multiple classmates in the same forum and are expecting a fair amount of back and forth. It is designed to facilitate multiple threads of a conversation.

The Single simple Discussion forum has only one page. It displays the discussion prompt, and when students click reply, the text of their replies will appear below the prompt in chronological order. Therefore, there is no clicking off the page to see students' posts; all text can be seen by scrolling down the forum page. This can save instructors a lot of time and clicking, but is not appropriate for all kinds of tasks.

a screenshot of a simple discussion forum with a questions prompt and the text replies of two answers immediately below are displayed.

It is worth noting that student can still reply to one another in a simple discussion; those replies will appear nested.

This type of Forum is best suited for tasks where the goal is not a lot of student interaction, but perhaps more of a tool to check in with students to see if they've understood the concepts. For example, you might use it for reading responses, quick check ins or introductions.

The type of forum you choose will depend on the task. Refer below to different kinds of tasks to determine which type of forum is most appropriate for the activity.

How to use Discussion Forums in your Course

Here are some ideas for using Forums to facilitate online learning activities. (Refer to the video Using Discussion Forums for a more in depth look at some of these.)

  • Reading responses (Single simple discussion)

Students to respond a reading in their own words. Provide optional guiding questions to help students frame their thoughts

  • Lecture/reading Key take ways (Single simple discussion)

Students identify one or two key points from the reading or lecture. You may also consider asking them to identify one question or "fuzzy" concept.

  • Reflections/Applying Content to own lives or real-world (Single simple discussion)

Students reflect on course content and identify ways that the content applies to their own lives/their jobs/communities or future jobs.

  • Predictions (Single simple discussion)

Provide scenarios and ask students to make a prediction. Students must justify their predictions by referring to course readings, lectures and other sources.

  • Scenarios (Standard forum)

Develop some case studies or scenarios for students to choose from and populate them into separate threads in the forum. Tell students to choose a few to respond to.

  • Contentious topics/debate (Standard forum)

Identify a series of contentious topics (they must be polarizing for this activity to work) and populate them into separate threads in the forum. Ask students to choose one they agree with and another they disagree with and defend their answer in the corresponding thread. At the end of the week ask students to go back to the threads and read all the repies and reflect on the responses of their classmates. After reading all the responses for and against, what have they learned? As them to write a brief reflection in a separate thread, forum or as an assignment.

Variations: Ask students to respond to hypotheses

  • Jigsaw Activity (Standard forum)

In a jigsaw, you ask groups of students to become experts on a topic and then go and teach it to others. To use this in a forum, you can either set up the forum using groups and assign each group a topic, or you can manually create threads for each topic in the discussion forum and students work within the thread. One student in each group is responsible for summarizing their group's contribution and presenting it to the class. The presentation can be: in another thread of the forum, in a shared document (i.e. google doc), during a virtual lecture, etc.

For example, on a given topic, each group is assigned a different theory. Each group presents its assigned theory to the rest of the class.

  • Peer Feedback (Standard forum - separate groups)

You can use a forum in group mode for students to share their work (either by copying and pasting text or uploading files) with each other and giving each other feedback. (Be sure to allow for attachments in set up of the forum)

  • A Course Q & A Forum (Standard forum)

In order to reduce the number of emails, you can create a course Q & A and pre-populate them it with topics into separate threads. For example, you can create a thread for questions about the final exam, a thread about a particular assignment, a thread for logistical questions, etc.

Encourage students to read through the Q & A before posting a new question in case the answer is already provided and encourage them to answer any questions they can.

Tips for using Discussion Forums

  1. Have clear protocols: A protocol is the goal of the discussion with step-by-step instructions on how to complete the task.
  2. Design questions that require critical thinking: discussion forums are an excellent opportunity for students to develop and demonstrate higher-order thinking skills. In the face-to-face classroom, students do not typically have the same opportunities to think deeply and respond thoughtfully to questions and make this thinking visible to the instructor.
  3. Be present: It is important for the instructor or TA to be part of this discussions by checking in regularly and adding comments, posing questions to get students to dig deeper and clarify any misconceptions. Set expectations early so students know how often to expect you to check in.
  4. Use one forum for each topic: Discussion forums can have replies and multiple levels of threads, but they should all be focused on the same overall question or topic. Create separate forums for new tasks or topics.
  5. Allow opportunities for personalization: Design questions so that students can draw on their own background and experiences to relate it to course content.
  6. Use small groups: Designating groups of approximately 4-6 (but no more than 9) means that students can have meaningful dialogue with one another. You can use the Groups function in Moodle to set this up.
  7. Provide options: Provide a list of questions and let students choose which they respond to.

Setting up a Moodle Discussion Forum

Follow the instructions below or, refer to How to Create a forum in Help for Instructors on Moodle. (You will need to log in to Moodle to access this page). 

How to set up a Forum activity

You can use the Forum activity to start discussions with and among your students. As you set up the activity, you can choose from a variety of forum types and settings that offer a wide range of participation. The following section includes information and instructions on how to set up a forum activity.

Note: By default, every Moodle course includes an Announcements forum in the top general section of the page. The Announcements forum is a one-way communication tool that teachers and teaching assistants can use to message students. But students cannot respond to these posts.

To add a regular Forum activity:

1. On the Moodle course page, select Turn editing on.

2. Select Add an activity or resource in the course section where you want to add the forum.
The Activity chooser is displayed with a list of all activities and resources.

3. Select Forum, and then select Add.

Select Forum, and then select Add

The Adding a new Forum page is displayed.

4. In the Forum name textbox, enter the name of the forum.

5. In the Description text editor, enter a description.
a. Optional: to add a description of the forum on the course page, select the Display description on course page checkbox.
Tip: If you choose this option, ensure the forum description is clear but brief. Avoid adding long blocks of text to the course page.

6. On the Forum type drop-down menu, select the type of forum you want to add.

On the Forum type drop-down menu, select the type of forum you want to add

There are four types of forums:

  • Standard forum for general use – This is the Forum type default setting. It is an open forum where all participants can start new discussions at any time. This forum can also be displayed in a blog-like format.
  • A single simple discussion – This is a single discussion topic that is started by the teacher. Everyone can reply to the original post. This forum type cannot be used with separate groups.
  • Each person posts one discussion – This forum type allows each participant to post only one new discussion topic, which everyone can then reply to.
  • Q and A forum – This forum type allows teachers to post questions for students to answer. Participants will need to post their answers before they can view other students’ posts.

7. Expand the Subscription and tracking settings, and then select the Subscription mode from the drop-down menu.

Expand the Subscription and tracking settings, and then select the Subscription mode from the drop-down menu

There are four types of subscription modes:

  • Optional subscription (recommended setting) – Participants can choose if they want to be subscribed (i.e., to receive email notifications).
  • Forced subscription – Everyone is subscribed to the forum and cannot unsubscribe.
  • Auto subscription – Everyone is subscribed initially but can choose to unsubscribe at any time.
  • Subscription disabled – Subscriptions are not allowed.

8. Select your Read tracking preference from the drop-down menu.

Select your Read tracking preference from the drop-down menu

This setting allows you track unread posts. There are three read tracking options:

  • Optional – Participants can choose if they want to turn tracking on or off through a link in the Administration block. Forum tracking must also be enabled in the user’s profile settings.
  • Forced – Tracking is always on, regardless of a user’s settings.
  • Off – Read and unread posts are not tracked.

Note: The following advanced feature settings can be left unchanged unless they are specifically required:

  • RSS
  • Post threshold for blocking
  • Grade Ratings
  • Common module settings

For more information on these features, please contact

9. Select Save and return to course.

Resources for using online Discussion Forums

Further resources


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