Abstract Empirical studies and theory suggest that educational dialogue can be used to support learners in the development of reasoning, critical thinking and argumentation. This paper presents an educational design for synchronous online peer discussion that guides student dialogue in ways that lead to improved argumentation and collaborative knowledge development. This design includes a mediating interface – or tool, linked to a broader set of online educational activities – a designed local context, where the latter aims to provide conditions that support argumentation. The approach is based on collaborative working and dialogue game approaches to discussion. Preliminary findings with UK Open University students showed the argumentation process was more coherent, varied, deeper and extended when using our interaction design compared with the use of a simple unstructured interface.