LMS Forums Are Broken

Written by

Paul Johnson

As social beings, we learn best in communities. The moment a lecture turns to asking questions, exploring answers, critiquing, expanding, etc. is usually when the most engaged learning happens. In fact, the best teachers use discussion to teach far more than they lecture.

I think education technology’s role now is to enable this type of rich discussion to happen anywhere and to make it frictionless. (This mirrors what the best tech does; it acts as a superpower or painkiller.)

Unfortunately most LMSs add friction to online discussion. Here’s the typical pattern in an LMS:

  1. Student reviews the content of the assignment (a question, lecture, reading, etc.).
  2. She clicks a link that takes them away from the content to a separate forum or discussion board.
  3. Finally, she discusses what they just reviewed in that separate, new place.

Now how would that look in real life? Something like this . . .


“So do you think spreading the jelly to the edge really saved her life?”

✋ Student:

“I think . . .”


“Stop! If you want to discuss this question, you’ll need to go into the discussion room across the hall.”

Everyone shuffles into the discussion room across the hall…

That’s absurd, right? It would completely break the flow of thought from content to discussion-based application. So why do we think that’s okay in an online environment?

At Pathwright, we don’t think that’s okay. That’s why we designed discussions to work in context, along with everything a student is learning.

This is about more than where discussion happens.

As I mentioned in my last rant about sidebars, interface design for online education is in its infancy. But one thing UI designers on education platforms can do better is to keep discussion at hand and in context.

At Pathwright, we don’t get everything right either. But we start by taking a design approach that begins with how great education happens in real life instead of taking the easier route of cobbling together existing design patterns like tacking on an online forum.

If you’d like to try out the difference for yourself, you can start creating an online course for free right now.

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