Role Modeling in Online Discussion Forums

As LMS becoming more widely adopted in fully online, hybrid, blended courses, its asynchronous discussion platforms are often used as the channel for information exchange and peer-to-peer supports. For F2F courses that leverage online discussion forums as a complement to classroom communications or a tool for flipped-classroom that facilitates active learning, asynchronous discussion activities correlate to higher engagements in courses and better performance overall. Under this notion, insights into roles in discussion forums can contribute to improved design and facilitation for asynchronous discussions.

In light of the research conducted in the field of role mining for social networks (Abnar, Takaffoli, & Rabbany, 2014), we limit our focus on the roles which have been identified in social contexts, and we re-defined them in the context of asynchronous discussions.

We developed a Shiny application using social network methods, centrality and power analysis, to analyze and visualize online discussion interactions. Degree and closeness centrality scores are used to identify leaders and periphery/outermosts, and mediators yield a high betweenness centrality score. The graphs shared below were produced in the application.

Graph 1: each node represents an individual, the color corresponds to a group/community.

Roles derived from asychronous discussion activities

Leaders: the most active individuals in online discussion forums, i.e., posting well-thought threads that welcome peers’ comments and meanwhile, providing feedback to peers’ postings.Peripheries/Outermosts: the least active individuals in an online discussion forum, who posted few threads, which got none responses from peers, and replied to few peers’ postings.Mediators: the individuals who connect different groups in a network.Outsiders: the individuals who had minimum participation in a discussion, i.e., posted one thread to a discussion topic.


When asynchronous discussions are structured and designed to promote deep learning through collaborations, such as seeking information from peers, suggesting alternative solutions and providing answers/feedback, it would be desirable to help participants move from the periphery of the information exchange network to the core. When an online discussion forum with a well-defined topic or prompt is used primarily for students to post responses to the topic, instructors can incorporate incentives into the discussion forums to motivate learners to participate in discussions in a constructive manner (Hecking, Chounta & Hoppe, 2017).


Abnar, A., Takaffoli, M., Rabbany, R., & Zaiane, O. (2014). SSRM: Structural Social Role Mining for Dynamic Social Networks. 2014 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining.

Hecking, T., Chounta, I., & Hoppe, U. H. (2017). Role modeling in MOOC discussion forums. Journal of Learning Analytics. 4(1), 85-116.

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