An online forum is also known as a message board, online discussion group, bulletin board or web forum. It differs from a blog. An online forum is a discussion area whereby members can post discussions and read and respond to posts by other forum members. A forum can revolve around any subject in an online community.
Like other internet-based learning environments, online forums provide a way for maintaining communication for learners who are not able to meet face-to-face or who prefer logging-on at different times. Online forums are a kind of computer mediated communication which allows individual to communicate with others by posting written messages to exchange ideas.
Online forums create a discussion environment. Everything that gets posted gets read over and over again. Online forums rarely turn into heated arguments as people are given time to research and consider their comments before replying. This in turn, makes high-quality discussion.
Here are some potential benefits of regular online forum participation:
- Intellectual exchange
- Learning new ideas and refining old ones
- Enjoying community membership
- Influencing the forum's evolution
- Contributing to others
- Making new friends and contacts
- New business leads
- Keeping up with current events
- Learning about new opportunities
Research studies have recognized nine characteristics of a good online forum. They are:
- Establish a friendly, open environment
- Use authentic tasks and topics
- Emphasize learner-centered instruction
- Encourage students to give constructive feedback and suggestions
- Let students experience, reflect and share the benefit of using threaded discussion
- Be sure that instructors facilitate collaboration and knowledge building
- Encourage dialogue and referencing of other student postings
- Use humor for motivation
- Use emoticons to help convey ideas and feelings
Good online forums provide a social presence, in which students and instructors are able to present themselves as "real people" and communicate with their personality.