Life by Design

Online Learning Communities

Posted on: March 4, 2011

Research has now shown that the key component for online learning satisfaction is the strength and robust nature of the social learning community that is created in online instruction.  The responsibility for creating this community falls on the shoulders of the facilitator, the students and the administration.  the purpose of this online learning community is to pull together students to co-construct knowledge and develop meaning about  the content.  Students learn to be independent learners who can professionally support each other, challenge each other and emerge from a course as a transformed ‘scholar practitioner’.  This knd of community is developed in such a way that the facilitator(s) and students are on equal ground.  Because the learner is engaged in this very connected way, student satisfaction grows and attrition rates drop.

Learning communities have several components that make them work.

(1) Purpose of the course (2) People who are empowered to be responsbile in a socially constructivist manner to figure out meaning (3) Methods of Interaction (4) Process for course delivery and (5) Social Presence which is the ability to develop and online presence through the use of text.

As I develop new courses for the future and possibily facilitate them as well, I will certainly follow the guidelines below.  I have developed a prototype for an online orientation course that I want to develop further because I have learned how critical it is for online success.

The critical time for building online community takes place within the first two weeks of the course.  In fact, it is recommended that the new learner first take an orientation to online learning alsting about two weeks to orient the student to the philosophy of online learning, help the student think about time managment and support system and give him or her the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the technology and learning management system.  After this point, the facilitator needs to make a great effort to personally and frequently connect with each student within the first two weeks.  Specific tips for building the learning network include such things as:

(1) Having an optional ice breaker exercise that can introduce students to one another

(2)Making personal phone calls to students

(3)Email Contact

(4) Facilitator daily blogs and posting of a personal bio

(5) Creating a bio

(6) Convey a sense of warmth with humor, punctuation and emoticons

(7) Set the tone for Rules of Engagement creating a safe environment for every learner

(8) Construct a welcome letter that is both posted on the site and emailed to each student

these ideas help to increase student satisfaction, decrease the sense of social isolation and help the student develop their own unique online presence.

Sustaining online communities requires gradually transferring the learning responsibility from the learning guide to the student over time. As the course progresses, dyad work, peer-to-peer instruction and group collaboration on projects can occur which again solidifies and reinforces the social contact within the class.

The relationship between building a successful learning community and effective online instruction is a causative relationship.  to quote from the movie, “Field of Dreams”, “Build it and they will come.”  Not only will they come, they will stay and they will become transformed learners.



References

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2011) “Online Learning Communities”.  Laureate Education, Inc. Video Production.

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7 Responses to "Online Learning Communities"

Hello Deborah,

Love this cheerful blog design! I look forward to following your blogging in this course.

Andrea Hildreth

Hi Andrea,

Thanks for connecting! I’m looking forward to learning alongside you, too!

~Deborah

Deborah,

So many good things, hmm, I guess I want to type about learners co-constructing knowledge. I love that idea for many reasons but the foremost is that it means the learners are engaged because passive learners are not constructing anything (except maybe paper-airplanes – hey can online learners construct online-paper-airplanes). Also the learning topic must be relevant because they had to connect it with currently held knowledge – right.

I’m excited to read that you have developed an orientation prototype! I agree that it is essential to engage (there’s that word again) the learner right away letting them know what it takes to be successful in an online learning community.

It seems so unfair that for almost two decades we tell students to sit still while we talk at them; then, one day we say OK your turn to participate. It’s silly that we are stunned by their inability to collaborate! We definitely have to help them become active learners.

Ahead – to the future of online orientations which help prevent academic expectations from being silly or unfair! You’re doing such important work.

Deborah,

So many good things, hmm, I guess I want to type about learners co-constructing knowledge. I love that idea for many reasons but foremost is that it means the learners are engaged. Because passive learners aren’t constructing anything (except maybe paper-airplanes – hey can online learners construct online-paper-airplanes). Also the learning topic must have been relevant because they had to connect it with currently held knowledge, – right?

I’m excited to read that you have developed an orientation prototype! I agree that it is essential to engage (there’s that word again) the learner right away letting them know what it takes to be successful in an online learning community.

It seems so unfair that for almost two decades we tell students to sit still while we talk at them; then, one day we say OK your turn to participate. It’s silly that we are stunned by their inability to collaborate! We definitely have to help them become active learners.

Ahead – to the future of online orientations which help prevent academic expectations from being silly or unfair! You’re doing such important work.

Hi Andrea,

Thank you for your gracious response! You know, we’re all doing important work…it’s important that we’re all in this program and eventually going to get ‘out there’ and create more of a paradigm shift with educational delivery.

I agree with you that it is totally unrealistic for both kids and adults to shift from the ‘sage on the stage’ mentality to the ‘guide on the side’ where the learner is now on a level playing field and expected to step up and take *responsibility* for his/her own learning journey. It’s quite a leap! I like how our authors discuss the gradual transition and transformation of the learner that can take place in an online course. The facilitators must have a strong online presence at first carefully guiding the student along and then gradually step aside so that the learner can stand on his/her own two feet and move forward. It is such a healthy way to learn, in my opinion!

Reference

Boettcher, J. & Conrad, R. (2010) The Online Teaching Survival Guide. Jossey-Bass.

Hi Deborah,

The ideas you listed serve as wonderful tips when trying to establish an online community. My interest is in the area of K-6 online learning. I especially like the idea of making personal phone calls to both parents and students since the students are younger, keeping a daily blog posting and creating a very engaging icebreaker. Great Posting.

Karen

Hi there to every body, it’s my first pay a quick visit of this blog; this weblog contains awesome and truly fine material for readers.

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