Discussion Design Kit

Richard Millwood
First created December 1998, revised May 2001, February 2002, July 2002, November 2004

How Can Software Be Designed To Support Online Learning?

Inherent in every online community software product are assumptions about the way conversation online should be carried out.

The constraints and organising mechanisms, the information which is recorded and the presentation of the ongoing discourse are often arbitrarily designed to match a simplistic model of conversation.

This analysis identifies some of the characteristics of online conversation and how they can vary, matching these to some common models.

Although there is great value in using software which allows, enforces and exposes constraints, its important to note that good results can be achieved in a less rich software environment by ground rules based on mutual agreement or leadership.

Of course this analysis is only of online discussion using text - there are many other essential features which have to be considered in creating or analysing online learning community software.


The form below is a partially interactive format for a hypothetical tool which would allow a variety of designs for framing discourse to be explored - it is incomplete and is intended to provoke ideas rather than actually work.

Choose a preset discussion design:
this is a summary of your design

or alter your discussion design values directly:

1 Joining Participants can join: when they like;

within of the first contribution;

only by invitation by a participant.

2 Size The number of participants: less than seven;

seven to seventeen;

seventeen to seventy seven;




2 Contributing Each participant can make: one contribution;


as many contributions as they like.

3 Timing Contibutions are made: at regular intervals;

in turn;

after others have replied...

...or passed;

at any time.

4 Notification New contributions are known by : flagging on screen those that are not read by the participant;

email to the participant;

SMS text message on mobile phone;

summary 'what's new' message (email or phone).

5 Identity Participants' identity : is clear;

can be discovered;

is cloaked (avatar);

is secret (anonymous).

6 Audience The audience who can read a contribution is : a single person;

those who can contribute to the discussion;

local, the community which includes participants;


7 Role Participants' role is : as equals;

some with responsibility (mediator, respondent, summariser);

some proposing debating position (with others).

8 Responding Responses are made to contributions: immediately;

within a time limit;

when possible.

9 Presentation Contributions are presented: in individual windows with a list index;

listed complete in one window , latest first;

listed complete in one window , earliest first;

arranged in two dimensions in one window.

10 Labelling Contributions can be labelled: to belong to a category (support a position in a debate);

with an arbitrary number of keywords;

not at all.

11 Mediation Contributions are approved: before appearance;

after appearance;

automatically, without mediation.

12 Editing Contributions can be edited: with history;

without history;


13 Closure The conversation will end: at a time set at creation of the discussion;

after of no contributions;

when participants have made contributions;

when the mediator judges fit;


14 Archiving Contributions will be archived:

at regular intervals;

synchronised with summarisation;

at the end;


15 Voting To poll the participants views: a vote can be held at any time;

voting is a single continous process;

no voting takes place.

16 Summarising Summaries will be made:

at regular intervals;

at the end;