Professional Communication in the Online Environment

19 Communicate in online forums

Many online courses include forums, either as a required assignment, or to support your learning process. How can you use forums to support your learning in the best way possible?

Earlier in the workshop, you encountered the social presence and cognitive presence elements of the community of inquiry you are building in your course. Forums are a tool for creating collaborative learning relationships.  They can also be a low-stakes way to express your developing ideas, and to get feedback on the ways in which you are learning the course material as you work towards larger assignments.

What makes a good forum post?

The rubric below outlines what distinguishes stronger online posts from those that are less successful. Review the chart below.  What do you notice?  If your instructor has provided a rubric for online posts, read the rubric, and identify your instructor’s criteria for success.[1]

This chart contains a rubric for evaluating forum postings: Level 3 (Most successful) Postings reflect that you have completed and reflected well on course readings Postings demonstrate that you have read and reflected on colleagues' postings before posting a response Posting contribute to the class' understanding of the course content Posting is very regular and consistent throughout the whole course Writing style is engaging, well organized, and professional Level 2 (Successful) Postings generally incorporate ideas from course readings Postings usually show reflection on and response to others' ideas and questions Postings are usually relevant to the current discussion Postings usually help others to understand class content Posts are posted to the forum somewhat consistently Writing quality is sufficiently clear and professional to be easily understood by others Level 1 (Unsuccessful) Postings do not demonstrate an understanding of course readings Postings fail to engage with other classmates' postings Postings are not relevant to course learning outcomes Postings do not help others to learn Posting is inconsistent throughout the course Postings contain multiple writing errors or are poorly structured
Image Credit: Christina Page

Tips for Participating in Forums

  1. Develop a clear understanding of the expectations and ground rules for the forum. Review your course presentation (syllabus) to guidance on how often to post, the type of content to include in each post, and the best way to respond to others’ posts.
  2. Make connections between your posts and the content you are learning in the course. A forum post is often an excellent place to engage in critical reflection.  Make connections between the course content and the ways that your growing understanding are shaping your present and future practice.
  3. Set a regular schedule for posting and commenting on forums. This prevents the amount of content from becoming overwhelming, and allows you to develop stronger relationships in the course by regularly engaging with classmates.
  4. Include resources that might be useful to other classmates or your instructor in your posts.
  5. Use language that is appropriate for an academic environment.  Avoid writing in a way that is too informal (ie. writing that resembles a text message).
  6. Make sure that each post is clearly written and well structured.  Take time to clarify the message you want to communicate in your post, and organize your content into clear and concise paragraphs.  This is easier for your reader than a long or disorganized post.
  7. Respond to others’ posts in a supportive and challenging way.  In writing, messages may be unintentionally misinterpreted.  Be sure that your responses to others are respectful, positive in tone, and do not appear angry, even when you wish to disagree or present an alternative viewpoint.
  8. Participate in the community discussion.  Read others’ comments before posting, and connect your ideas with what you are hearing from your classmates. [2]

For Reflection

Read through your course presentations and find any guidelines for posting to forums.  Create a checklist for yourself based on these guidelines and the rubric above.  What do you need to do to create successful forum posts in your course? Keep this checklist, and refer to it regularly as you post to forums.

Download a printable forum posting checklist here.


Media Attributions

  • Online posting rubric

  1. Fenwick, T. J., & Parsons, J. (2009). The art of evaluation: a resource for educators and trainers (2nd ed.). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.
  2. Pappas, C. (2015a, June 6). 10 netiquette tips for online discussions. Retrieved August 7, 2018, from; Pappas, C. (2015b, August 16). 7 tips on how to use forums in elearning. Retrieved August 7, 2018, from


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