1. Hall, Susan W. EdD, RNC-OB, CCE

Article Content

Online learning is on the rise in higher education, and discussion boards are an integral aspect of any electronic learning environment. It's imperative that those of us participating in online educational programs adopt successful strategies for communicating responses to discussion board questions, which allow online learners to identify processes and apply ideas.


This article offers helpful tips for completing discussion board questions before you push the "send" or "submit" button.


An asynchronous dialogue

Discussion boards, also known as threaded discussions or discussion forums, are one of the most commonly used tools in the online learning environment. They encourage asynchronous dialogue in which participants don't converse in real time but rather over a period of time. The ability to learn asynchronously is one of the principal benefits of online education.


Discussion boards provide an opportunity for all participants to contribute, many of whom may not speak up in face-to-face group sessions. Some nurses may be introverted; in-person class time constraints and large class sizes can also limit participation in classroom discussions. Participants can engage in learning activities such as readings or videos, write their discussion question response, reflect on what they've written, and then post the response to the discussion board for their peers to review.


Whether an individual is shy or more vocal, everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to the discussion. In face-to-face classes, extroverted students can usurp discussion time, leaving little time for others to participate. An introverted learner prefers to think about the question and his or her response before stating an opinion. Discussion boards level the playing field for both introverted and extroverted learners by allowing all participants to write, review, and then post their responses.


When answering online discussion board questions, participants should remember that an essential component of the learning process is meaningful involvement and quality contributions. In online discussions, participants must own and justify their responses to their peers. Nurses with positive impressions of discussion boards as part of their online education experience have highlighted this interaction as an interesting exchange of ideas. Others liked the fact that, unlike in-class discussions, they could think through their replies and then post them.


Tricks of the trade

Basic computer skills are necessary for discussion boards. Learn enough to make yourself comfortable at the beginning of the course before participating in the discussion board process. For example, formulating your response in a word processing program and then pasting it into the discussion board can help avoid grammatical mistakes. When researching your answer, there will probably be some search engine navigation involved.


Consider sharing relevant personal and/or work experiences with your fellow students to maximize the interactions. Taking the time to carefully read what others post, and then thinking through your response before posting it, will be beneficial to both yourself and your peers.


Paying attention to online etiquette guidelines can enhance student-to-instructor and student-to-student interactions. Courtesy and respect may require greater attention in the online learning environment. For example, make sure you say what you mean to say before you press the "submit" button. Be cautious about responding in all caps because this is considered to be shouting. If you disagree with a colleague, do so in an earnest and professional demeanor. And be careful about using the cut-and-paste feature because plagiarism presents as serious an academic violation in discussion boards as it does in paper assignments.


The goal is to engage individuals in active learning. For example, a student posts an initial response at the beginning of the week and, by the end of the week, may respond one or more times to his or her peers. A rubric is used to delineate expectations, which may include the maximum and minimum number of words in the initial response, the number of responses that should be made to peers, and the number of required readings or resources that should be cited. This approach is well accepted by nurses and it encourages us to extend our work beyond the classroom. When we're allowed to learn and grow in this manner, it increases confidence and promotes critical thinking.


Efficient and effective

Online education is growing rapidly for healthcare professionals and discussion boards play a major role in this style of learning. Tips suggested in this article can assist you to efficiently and effectively complete online discussion board questions.




Gerlock JA, McBride DL. Managing online discussion forums: building community by avoiding the drama triangle. College Teaching. 2013;61(1):23-29.


Hudson KA. Teaching nursing concepts through an online discussion board. J Nurs Educ. 2014;53(9):531-536.


Reinckens J, Philipsen N, Murray TL. Nurse practitioner: is online learning for you. J Nurse Pract. 2014;10(9):700-705.