Paper Abstract: Exploring the Role of Discussion Forums in Promoting Collaborative Learning in Healthcare Online Environment

DiscussionForum The twenty-first century workplace requires innovative online learning and technologies that can offer opportunities for collaboration and flexibility; all with the goal of creating forums for sharing and exchange of knowledge.  In response to advances in distributed learning platforms and the changing nature of  learner demographics, an online asynchronous learning environment is emerging that seeks to engage in activities that support interaction and collaboration.  These activities, which rely on learning, sharing, inquiry and group participation, are emerging as learning communities which can be described as:

“a group of people, connected via technology-mediated communication, who actively engage one another in collaborative learn-centered activities to intentionally foster the creation of knowledge, while sharing a number of values and practices” (Ludwig-Hardman, 2003 in Wilson, Ludwig-Hardman, Thornam & Dunlop, 2004, p.2).

This paper seeks to explore how online discussion forums, as a web 2.0 social media learning environment, promote collaborative learning in healthcare environments when enabled by appropriate engagement and motivational learning pedagogy.  As an Organizational Development Specialist working within an Ontario community healthcare organization, I view the workplace through a lens of improving system effectiveness with the goal of influencing and creating positive change for staff and all associated stakeholders. Funded by the Ministry of Health, part of my role is to continually be seeking new opportunities and innovations that promote staff learning and spark organizational change.

Working in an environment that is constantly changing and evolving related to systematic and political pressure drivers, the necessity exists to offer interactive online learning that promotes not only learning but flexibility with a workforce that is predominately decentralized. Scovotti and Spiller (2011) suggested “globalization has fueled the need for collaboration over substantial geographical distances, prompting businesses to adopt technologies that facilitate communication and ongoing interaction among a distributed and diverse workforce” (p.57).  Further, Junk, Deringer and Junk (nd) noted in the Sloan Consortium of Fall 2007 that  “3.9 million students were enrolled in online classes which is a 12 percent increase over the number reported in 2006” (p.1), suggesting that educational materials and resources must be intentionally developed, structured and distributed using pedagogy that best supports an online learning environment.

Further linkages for learning within discussion forums, asynchronous environments, will be explored through the lens of social presence, seen as a key enabler for collaborative and learning communities.   Role of facilitator and learners will be delved into within discussion forums, seeking value add and challenges.  These asynchronous forums, described as computer-mediated communications, will finally be applied and relevancy to the healthcare system discussed.

Draft References:

Berge, Z. (2002). Active, interactive, and reflective elearning. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education. 3(2), p 181-190

Harris, N. and Sandor, M. (2007). Developing online discussion forums as student centred peer elearning environments.  Proceedings ascilite Singapore.  p.383-387

Junk, V., Deringer, N. & Junk, W. (nd).  Techniques to engage the online learner.  Retrieved electronically 13 October 2013 from

Kanuka, H., and Garrison, D. (2004). Cognitive presence in online learning.  Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 15(2), p.30-48

Ludwig-Hardman, S. (2003). Case study: instructional design strategies that contribute to the development of online learning community.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Colorado, Denver

McLoughlin, D. and Mynard, J. (2009). An analysis of higher order thinking in online discussions.  Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 46(2). p.147-160

Scovoti, C. and Spiller, L.D. (2011). Cross-border student collaborations: opportunities for videoconferencing. Marketing Education Review, 21(1), p.57-61

Wang, C.X., Jaeger, D., Liu, and Nie. N. (2013). Using synchronous technology to enrich student learning.  TechTrends, 57(1), p.20-25

Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language.  Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press.

Wilson, B.G., Ludgwig-Hardman, S., Thornam, C.L and Dunlop, J.C. (2004). Bounded community: designing and facilitating learning communities in formal courses.  The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.  November. p. 1-19.


Blog #5: Putting to Practice!

Well…after some deliberation, review of all my classmates blogs and in consideration of the past two weeks reading…I thought this was the perfect time to explore my own experiences with online facilitation over the past week!  I have the privilege of designing and facilitating 10 mandatory sixty minute webinars for over 700 staff and what was the content you might ask?  Something we have all experienced – the annual Occupational Health & Safety review!  Human resources was of course the subject matter expert and delivered most of the content themselves with my support however the experience was timely in light of everything we’ve been discussing and reading as of late.

Let’s start with the planning required for these webinars.  Not only did extensive scoping of the content and building of the presentation take place but the administration setup was equally extensive.  To build the webinars, polling questions, survey and market the education occurred over 4 weeks with goals of ensuring the session would be learner centred, relevant and meaningful.  Also included was practice time with HR to not only review the content but practice navigating the technology as ‘presenting’ not only includes the virtual presence but also knowledge about how to switch screens and control muting.  Added onto this was a request for me to mentor a staff on my role as organizer, which of course I was happy to do.

But the best part for me came in trialling a webcam for first time!  Only a few staff in the organization currently have this capability and although I had to ask IT to purchase me a portable set, it works perfect.  A little daunting to project yourself into the screen however I was really pushing to try and create some sense of social presence in a short session and already evaluation is revealing that staff wish they could see all the presenters, which is a great first step… identification and validation that it is helpful to receive those visual cues which display emotion and tone of voice.  Each session provides immediate assessment in the form of a survey and it is used to guide/revise ongoing sessions.  Upon completion of all the webinars later this week, I will provide a full analysis of the data to HR who will use it to document baseline knowledge and align against organizational goals.

One interesting note to share is that a staff contacted me this week and indicated she had watched the webinar from her ipad; this was extremely exciting as staff do not have ipads however this individual herself decided to engage with her own technological devices; to expand her own knowledge of learning with innovation.  Although we were able to identify webinarsome challenges with the ‘app’ she used, I am planning now to further test this myself as I believe this presents opportunities in the future to expand the delivery of our organizational learning.

What a timely experience for me to ‘put to practice’ our recent learning’s and I am looking forward to the next opportunities for online learning in my organization where hopefully I can promote more effectiveness and engagement of learners through innovative and interactive strategies.