By: Linda Dale Bloomberg

Linda Dale Bloomberg holds the positions of associate director of faculty support and development, and full professor of education in the School of Education, Northcentral University, San Diego. Dr. Bloomberg received her doctorate in 2006 from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed the AEGIS Program in Adult and Organizational Learning. Her new book is titled Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners.

Discussion forums are a significant part of online courses, an experience that prompts engagement by allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge of the learning activities from the week, and also building a sense of community. However, as I pointed out in my previous blog post, Learninghouse (2019) reports that only 66% of respondents stated that these forums are engaging; highlighting an opportunity for improvement.

Keep this in mind: There are many ways to think about reimagining and redesigning discussion board forums, and to make sure that these are serving the function of encouraging dialogue and critical thinking. 

Successful discussion isn’t measured by the quantity of learners’ responses. Rather, it is measured by the quality of those responses. Additionally, quality requires instructor engagement and thoughtful construction of discussion assignments that will generate dynamic interaction. However, even if you engage students at the start, you may not maintain ongoing engagement if they fail to see the relevance and value of the course material. As I write in my book, Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners, adults have a need to know why they should learn, and are motivated to put time and energy into learning if they know the benefits and applicability thereof.

The ways in which you organize and present your material provides you an important opportunity to connect with your students and maintain their engagement. Thoughtful and intentional use of discussion tools to facilitate meaningful discourse can be elevated by aligning Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Krathwohl, 2002; Bloom, 1956; Bloom et al., 1956) with discussion prompts. This taxonomy includes a series of levels of cognitive effort, with each level representing a “step” in understanding — ranging from simply remembering to creating. Following Bloom’s taxonomy means that educators will strive to cover all levels of the pyramid, thereby creating a more interactive and impactful educational experience for a diverse student population.


While this represents the lowest level of cognitive effort in Blooms Taxonomy, it is still important for students to be able to define and recall aspects of course content.  Verb prompts associated with this level include choose, define, identify, label, list, name, match, recall, select, and tabulate. Instead of asking students to respond to discussion board questions that are usually based on naming items that resonated with them after completing the readings, students could be asked to create an infographic using Canva or other free tools. By sharing their learning in these ways, students can demonstrate their ability to recall facts from the text, but in enhanced and creative ways. Moreover, students are provided a chance to use technology tools that may be useful to them in other assignments and courses.


At this level you will want students to not only be able to retain and recognize content, but you also want them to demonstrate that they can translate and describe that content within a specified context. Verb prompts associated with this level include articulate, associate, compare, contrast, discuss, elaborate, explain, extrapolate, outline, show, summarize, and translate. Here, you could have students create a mind map using a free tool such as Mindmeister to show how they are making sense of the interconnection among course concepts and constructs. Sharing their mind maps, enables students to see how their peers are thinking about the same course concepts, reflect on this, and develop a deeper understanding of how certain concepts relate to each other.


At the application level, students are expected to demonstrate and interpret. This is going beyond the understanding stage where students were required to simply report on what they know. Additional verb prompts associated with this level include adapt, build, classify, construct, demonstrate, plan, organize, and use. Students could be asked to sketch a virtual venn diagram using a free tool such as Lucidchart. Students could be asked to share their diagrams, and then engage in discourse surrounding their individual application of learning. This activity would enable comparing and contrasting the learned concept with other concepts and constructs, demonstrating how students are actually able to use the learned information in new ways.


Asking students to analyze content requires them to organize, compare, and make connections between course content. Additional verb prompts associated with this level include correlate, dissect, distinguish, examine, explore, infer, and outline. For example, using a case study approach is one activity where students would be required to examine key components of the case and categorize the content, by going back into the text and drawing on information to support their positions.


This level requires students to prioritize, justify, and decide. Additional verb prompts associated with this level include appraise, assess, criticize, critique, estimate, judge, interpret, recommend, validate, and verify. Participating in team projects, such as debates, offers students the chance to develop interpersonal communication skills, build relationships with classmates, and increase the level of collective competencies.  To accomplish this, you can consider posting the makeup of the debate teams, the topic to be debated, and a link to a shared collaborative space within the LMS for debate teams to prepare and meet virtually. The issues to debate would be crafted from the weekly or course module topic. As the instructor, you could serve as the judge. Alternatively, you might have individual students judge, or have a panel of student judges, with rotating roles in different weeks or modules throughout the course so that everybody has a chance to serve in the role of both debater and judge.


This is considered the highest level of cognitive effort in Bloom’s Taxonomy and involves designing, planning, and invention. Additional verb prompts associated with this level include: adapt, arrange, assemble, categorize, compile, compose, construct, depict, design, develop, devise, formulate, innovate, integrate, organize, produce, revise, and synthesize. Here, you can ask students to create or innovate a new product or concept as it relates to the week’s topic. The discussion forum would be used for students to share the process and invention with live or pre-recorded video responses. Instead of peers responding with simply, “I agree” or “This is a good point,” they can offer alternatives to what their peers have created, and substantiate their responses with newly formulated ideas and creations.

Discussion forums can and indeed should be more than the monotonous responding to questions about the weekly course readings. Keep the online learning experience vibrant by using different prompts to connect your students with the course content, with their peers, and with you. Providing creative opportunities for discussion will certainly elevate the overall online learning experience for all!

Reflective Questions

  1. What are some other ideas you may have with regard applying Bloom’s Taxonomy to your students’ discussion forums?
  2. What other ways have you tried in order to keep your discussion forums relevant and vibrant?
  3. What new strategies are YOU willing to try to engage your students in discussion forums?


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives handbook: Cognitive domains. David McKay.

Bloom, B. S., Englehart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. Longman.

Bloomberg, L. D. (2021). Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Krathwohl, D. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview.  EBSCO.

Learninghouse (June, 2019). Online College Students 2019: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences. Retrieved from

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