Impact of online learning communities on student learning and satisfaction. . . .
The most significant impact of online learning communities, as I have discovered for myself, and as Dr. Palloff in (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.) presented is providing learners the opportunity (or in some cases forcing learners to leave their comfort zone) to be active and equal participants in the learning process. Equal meaning that learners are at the center of the learning experience and that their participation is just as crucial as that of the facilitator (or the instructor) for effective learning. Being part of an online learning community means belonging to a diverse pool of knowledge, opinions, and expertise, both academically and culturally. As a learner I am not just absorbing and locking in what I learn but rather exposing my ideas, opinions, and knowledge to those in the community, and expecting feedback—both favorable and unfavorable. So, what I thought I knew is constantly being questioned and challenged and as a result, I am driven to think, analyze, and investigate deeper the topic at hand. In doing so, my understanding of the subject expands, my online social presence grows, as indicated in (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.), and I make expected and unexpected discoveries about myself as well as about the subject I am taking. As Dr. Pratt noted in (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.), we in our online learning community, are co-constructing knowledge together both by challenging and supporting each other. His assessment aligns with (Siemens, 2006) philosophy of knowledge in our connected world, stating: “Instead of seeing knowledge from only one perspective (the filter), we, as individuals, can contribute our opinions and views to extend the depth (diversity) of our understanding. Knowledge can now be expressed through the aggregate of the individuals—a deafening crescendo of contrasting and complementing opinions and views.” (P. 72).
Essential elements of online community building . . . .
The essential elements of online community building Palloff & Pratt discussed in (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.) are:
- People – the learners, facilitators, administrators, and those working behind the scene to support the learning process.
- Purpose – a common goal for the learning community that connects the learners; i.e., the specific course the learners are taking.
- Process – the means by which the course is delivered; the learning management system for instance to engage students in the process of community building.
Graphics (slightly modified), courtesy of article on UNISA website http://www.unisa.ac.za/Default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=13287
Sustaining online learning communities. . . .
Sustaining this community, as Dr. Pratt suggested in (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.) is not solely the faculty’s responsibility but also the responsibility of the learners and the institution/administrators. Faculty must present learning activities that challenge and engage the learners. The faculty needs to foster an environment that encourages learners to participate and contribute to their learning community. The continuous presence of faculty to facilitate and to provide guidance and feedback to learners is crucial to keep the community alive. At the same time, learners must take the initiative—be self-directed in achieving their learning goals. The institution/ administrators are responsible in providing the appropriate resources both to the faculty and to the learners to facilitate the learning process.
Community building and effective online instruction. . . .
Effective online instruction and community building are interdependent. Effective online instruction can strive only if there is a well-established learning community. And conversely, community building happens through a well-planned and designed instruction. As noted in (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.), the elements of a learning community include people, purpose, and process. The effective cohesion of these elements constructs the community that yields effective instruction.
Becoming a more effective instructor. . . .
Given, all the relevant learning materials and resources are available to the learners, I believe that communicating with my learners in a humanely, considerate, non-threatening, and personalized manner is key to effective instruction. It is about building trusting relationships, albeit through the learning management system/communication technology. Furthermore, I need to ensure the learning environment engages, challenges, and promotes interaction amongst the learners, with the instructor, and with the content. As Dr. Pratt advises in (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.) as an instructor, I must continuously find effective means of reaching out to my learners to motivate and encourage them to be willing participants in, and contributors to their online learning community. The online learning community is a platform where my learners’ individuality can flourish. And my responsibility is to ensure I provide an environment that fosters the emergence of those individualities.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Online Learning Communities.
Siemens, G. (2006). Knowing Knowledge. Retrieved on September 5, 2013, from http://www.elearnspace.org/KnowingKnowledge_LowRes.pdf