Discussions are an important part of any learning program. They enable users to interact with each other, ask questions, and share knowledge or experience that helps them learn from one another.

An often-overlooked part of discussions is the role of the moderator. How can you make sure you are setting up your discussions and your moderator for success? First, it’s important that each discussion is purposeful and directly connected to the learning. In addition, the most engaging discussions have topics that people want to talk about; they evoke emotion, knowledge, passion or experience. If participants feel the discussions are not helpful, they will stop contributing.

Once you have the right topic for your discussion, it’s time to look at the role of the moderator.

What Are the Moderator’s Role and Responsibilities?

The moderator guides and fuels discussions by being present and active. If the discussion forum is a one-way communication, where participants post questions or comments and they fall into the void of the internet, learners will stop using it. The goal is to encourage participants to talk to each other, and the moderator should take a back seat (but not disappear).

The moderator shouldn’t reply to every post, but it’s important to set expectations with your users on how he or she will be involved in the program. Include an introduction or biography for all moderators so users know who they are and how they will add value to the learning.

The moderator has several responsibilities:

  • Serve as a primary contact for participants’ questions.
  • Serve as a subject matter expert (SME) on the topic (or take questions to SMEs for answers).
  • Monitor the day-to-day activity in the discussion.
  • Encourage discussion by responding to participants with well-thought-out replies.
  • Identify and highlight trends in the discussion that could help improve the training program.
  • Recognize great contributions from users.

Moderators can help fuel discussions in a variety of helpful ways:

  • Help participants clarify their understanding of key concepts.
  • Encourage a deeper understanding of concepts by responding with examples and different contexts.
  • Enable collaborative learning by connecting participants through responses.
  • Challenge participants to think critically.
  • Create a learning community and sense of belonging by welcoming and recognizing contributions to the discussion.
  • Gather feedback from participants to identify misunderstandings or areas of weakness in the program and provide an opportunity for additional support.

How Much Time Should a Moderator Spend Moderating?

Depending on the size of the program, a moderator can expect to spend one to two hours each week reading through and responding to discussion posts. This time might involve 15 minutes per day or 15 minutes each morning and 15 minutes each afternoon. Whatever it looks like for your program’s moderator, it’s important that he or she check the discussions with some regularity to ensure that participants receive timely responses to their questions and posts.

What Should a Moderator Response Look Like?

Moderator responses to participants should add value to the discussion. Short responses like, “Well said, John” or, “That’s a good point, Monica” don’t add any depth to the discussion. A simple “like” of the post would be a better way to tell users their post has been seen and appreciated.

Moderator responses should be an example of how all participants should respond to each other. Moderators can add value to their responses with stories or examples; by asking a challenging question to encourage deeper, more critical thinking; or by trying to bring others into the conversation.

A response like, “That’s a good point, John. I tried a similar approach once and it worked really well. What I did was …” is a good example of responding with a story. Saying, “I like this example, Monica. Did you see Sophia’s post on what she did in this scenario? I think I similar approach might work for you as well” encourages Monica to engage with Sophia’s post or brings Sophia into Monica’s post.

If participants are posting short responses, thank them for responding, and ask them to elaborate.

Where Else Should the Moderator Be Moderating?

While most of the discussion likely takes place in the online forum, it’s not the only place moderators should monitor. Anywhere discussions can take place is a site where that should they should be active . If your learning platform doesn’t have discussion forums, check comments on content or activities, for example.

Any conversation is an opportunity for moderators to collect valuable insights on how learners are receiving and understanding content. By reviewing them, moderators gain a better understanding of how the class is performing and can recognize users’ contributions.

Moderation’s Many Benefits

By having clear guidelines and expectations for moderators, you can keep your finger on the pulse of your learners and learning program, see what’s resonating and where there’s confusion, and react in real time. You can also gain insights to use with later cohorts or in other programs. For blended programs, knowing what conversations are happening online can help the facilitator better prepare for live sessions.

Have fun with it! Moderation of online learning will reward you and your training staff both personally and professionally.