3.3 Maintaining the conversation

Group size

In every online course, active participation is optional. Numbers of participants may vary with the appeal and relevance of the discussion. Many learners will simply read comments left by others – which is perfectly acceptable, as those learners are still progressing on their learning journeys.

Your role as an affiliated guide is defined by the size of the group and the expectations of their participation.


In many courses there may be hundreds or even thousands of comments posted at each stage, which can mean that knowing where to start can feel a bit daunting. Use the filters within the comments and discussion sections to help.

You can filter the comments by:

  • Everyone: The default setting that lists all posts.
  • Following: This option lists posts from learners you have selected to follow.
  • Most liked: Lists the posts that have had the ‘Like’ link clicked. This filter lists these posts by most popular first
  • My comments: Lists the contributions that you have added. This filter can be especially useful if you need to check back to see what you have written in respect to specific posts.

There is more information about posts, replying and adding comments in the ‘How it works’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] page on FutureLearn.

Helping learners navigate

Sometimes learners are not clear as to how to use and navigate these discussions, making some comments appear disjointed. Part of your role as an affiliated guide is to encourage learners to read and engage with these online discussions, so it is important to steer them in the right direction.

You can do this by doing the following:

  • Encouraging students to engage with the most recent comments and draw their attention to use the filters, such as ‘Most liked’, explained above.

It is important that learners start with the most recent comments first

  • Make it clear how to engage in discussion in this type of comments stream. You could point out that doing this would:
  1. allow people from around the world to share expertise, resources and points of view
  2. provide a range of opinions
  3. generate a valuable resource for learners who want to spend more time on a step.

Remind learners that they do not need (and should not be encouraged) to read all contributions.

If learners mention any confusion or frustration with the comments or discussion stream, it may be helpful and reassuring to restate some of the points listed above.

Keeping the momentum going

It’s good practice to get into the habit of responding promptly to the learners’ messages in the initial stages of their online experience. This helps to build their confidence and reassures them that someone is really out there.

Keeping discussions moving along and encouraging learners to continue contributing is a key skill of the affiliated guide’s role. Therefore, it is important to keep an eye on replies and comments. For instance, if you notice that a learner has initially contributed but not any longer, you may wish to try to encourage them back into interaction.

To help with this you may be able to follow your learners or sign up to receive emails to see what they have commented on.


It can be difficult to follow a debate in an online conversation because it may take place over days or weeks, with many dead ends along the way. You can help to maintain interest in the conversation by occasionally summarising major points to refocus learners’ attention, or add another comment or opinion to the discussion.

Flagging posts

Sometimes it might be necessary to flag a post in a discussion for either editing or removal by a facilitator. It’s a good idea to make a plan of what you will do in this situation. You may consider flagging a post if the learner is:

  • sharing personal information such as an email address or phone number
  • sharing private information such as a serious health issue or details of a conflict
  • making an inappropriate comment about another learner
  • stating a controversial or politically incorrect opinion.

In each of these cases, once you have flagged the post for a facilitator, they will decide on the action depending on the details of the post.

If you are unsure as to whether a post should be flagged or not, it is always better to bring it to a facilitator’s attention rather than not.

Recognising patterns of online behaviour

You might notice different patterns of behaviour from people online. These behaviours will have a huge influence on both how you interact and also how the learners interact with each other.

3.2 Setting out welcoming messages

3.4 Patterns of participation