<span class='p-name'>The four types of online discussion. Where are you?</span>

The four types of online discussion. Where are you?

Lately I’ve been conducting a lot of research into the ways in which people engage in discussion or comment online. This includes the ways in which we share and favorite or retweet (RT) content on Twitter. This also includes comments on Facebook and reactions (i.e., like, love, haha, wow, sad, angry).

In this work, I’ve found that people generally respond in one of four tendencies when they engage, connect, and discuss online. They deliberate, dialogue, declare, or debate.

Continuum from Individual to Collaborative discussion

These four tendencies are identified by comments and reactions that range from messages that are individual or collaborative. Comments that are individual are mainly speaking out for and to themselves. An example of this would be a person giving a soliloquy in a play. Comments that are collaborative speak and engage with others to create community. An example of this would be recognizing a comment made by another and responding another statement.

Continuum from Cooperative to Coercive discussion

These four tendencies are also identified by comments that are also cooperative or coercive to the discussion. Comments that are cooperative are collaborative and appear to be supportive of a common or mutual goal in the discussion. An example of this would be an individual or comment that is generally agreeable and focused on the common good of the group in the discussion. Comments that are coercive are threatening or forceful in nature and generally go against the common focus of the group in the discussion. An example of this would be a troll who incites discord in a discussion by sharing inflammatory, off-topic, or extraneous comments or messages in a discussion.

Four types of online discussion

As identified by the two continuums that exist (individual/collaborative, cooperative/coercive), the four types of online comments, posts, and reactions fall into a model that moves vertically and describes content that is more cooperative at the top, and more coercive at the bottom. The model also moves from left to right and indicates a message that is more individual and meant as an expression on the left, whereas on the right the focus of the communication is more collaborative and communal. These axes help identify individual messages that can be identified as being one of four types of communication: deliberate, dialogue, declare, and debate.

People that deliberate have a discussion or commenting style that is individual and collaborative. Their major purpose is to deliver information. These messages and comments may not attempt to sway the discussion as they many only provide details, or serve as an individual talking to hear themselves talk.

People that dialogue have a discussion or commenting style that is collaborative and cooperative. Their major purpose is to have communication between two or more parties in an attempt to come to a resolution or solve a problem.

People that declare have a discussion or commenting style that is individual and coercive. Their major purpose is to convey emotion, inspire, and perhaps dominate the discussion. These messages may include an individual ranting to force others into compliance or obedience.

People that debate have a discussion or commenting style that is both collaborative and coercive. Their major purpose is to argue, convert, or convince others. These messages include discussions between two or more people who may get contentious at times, yet still seek to come to a common ground or educate one another.

Where are you?

The four types of discussion found online can be used to identify the general tendencies individuals have as they communicate, comment, and react in online spaces. An individual may have a series of posts and comments that spread across multiple quadrants as they socialize and participate in online spaces. Yet, wherever there is a large concentration of messages on this model, that identifies the type of communication you generally engage in.

What do you think of this model? Please provide feedback on what you think works…and doesn’t work. I have a newer, deeper version that I’ll soon share online. For now, let me know where you fit most.


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8 Comments The four types of online discussion. Where are you?

  1. Kay Oddone

    Thanks for this thought provoking post. I feel that your research complements my own, as I am looking into how teachers experience PLNs, and this model helps clarify some of the ways that individuals might interact through their PLNs with others. For me personally, I feel as though I fall mostly into the deliberate and dialogue quadrants. I don’t usually post with the intent of changing people’s opinions, rather to try to educate and share what I have learnt recently. I feel that the coercive aspects of the quadrant are the most interesting. Declaring and debating walk a fine balance between coercing others to adopt a particular stance and coming to a shared understanding. When one passionately believes in something, it can be so easy to fall into ranting rather than relating! I look forward to your more detailed upcoming post.

    1. wiobyrne

      Hey Kay, thanks for the reply. The model started to develop for me in this research project (http://bit.ly/2Gb659Q). Feel free to edit as you see fit. The latest version of the model is in that gDoc. But…I wanted to get my ideas in place in a post, before sharing more. I’ll have an upcoming post on the remainder soon.

      And…yes, I think it’s important for people to recognize how they usually communicate. Many times we don’t think about it until it’s put in front of us to review.



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