Discussions can be a helpful tool to get students interested in a topic and enhance their learning experience. This format allows more students to contribute at once, and for each student to benefit from the knowledge of their peers. This knowledge sharing enables students to explore the content at a deeper level and build understanding collaboratively. When we think of an effective discussion, we often envision high interaction and an environment that fosters deliberation and reflection. It’s important to note that it takes a lot of thoughtful designing to create such an environment, especially in an online format.
Before choosing an online discussion, consider whether this is the right activity for the learning objectives you have in mind for the topic. To learn more about creating effective learning objectives, take a look at previous blogs Measurable Learning Objectives and Blooms Taxonomy: Revisiting the Pyramid.  Discussion activities are great for objectives that pertain to higher order learning, for example analyzing or evaluating a scenario, since the format invites students to exchange ideas, re-think assumptions and revisit beliefs.  

Watch this video from the University of South Whales where educators from different universities talk about various aspects of discussion activities and the benefits they can bring to an online class.