Improving Learner Responses to Discussion Threads and Peer Posts

Good questions are essential to good responses from learners using a discussion forum. While more professionally experienced learners may generate responses that reflect critical analysis naturally, other learners will need to be prompted by a good question. A tip provided by authors Boettcher and Conrad in “The Online Teaching Survival Guide” suggest designing questions that embed core concepts and allow students to identify ways in which the core concepts apply. The Growth, Development and Learning course for potential teacher candidates has a fieldwork component that is conducive to posing questions related to the core concepts of the course. Students were asked, “how were Piaget and Vygotsky’s learning theories evident in their fieldwork classroom this week”. Below is a learner’s response:

“While observing in Mrs. Morrison’s second grade class, it was evident that both Paget’s and Vygotsky’s theories are still practiced in classrooms today. While the students were learning math, Mrs. Morrison encouraged the students to utilize a box to help her students better understand adding and subtracting large numbers. When the math problem required students to add a leftover number above the problem Mrs. Morrison encouraged students to place a box around the extra number in order to keep the problem organized and for students to remember that the number was there and that it needed to be added to the rest of the problem. This tool is an example of Piaget’s concrete-operational stage of cognitive development. The use of this visual aid helps students by the means of a concrete item to help students better learn.”

The core concepts of the lesson were Piaget and Vygotsky’s learning theories. The learner’s response demonstrates the ability to recognize the application of Piaget’s theories but not the application of Vygotsky’s theory on the Zone of Proximal Development. While this learners response doesn’t contain correct responses to the application of both theories, it is a good response to the question because it tells me what the student knows and still needs to know.


Boettcher, J. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publisher