Online learning communities provide venues for students to challenge each other, co-construct knowledge, and provide appropriate feedback (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Additionally, both instructors and students participate equally in the learning community; however, instructors should create a safe environment for students to help them in expressing themselves and explaining to them how he/she will support them thought their learning journey (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).
Building an effective learning community requires planning and clear vision on who will be participating in the community (Saragina, 1999) and what are the common interests for this community that will keep participants engaged. Wilcoxon (2011) suggested that the structure of a learning community should include social presence, teacher presences, structured and unstructured cognitive presence ( full article ). Palloff and Pratt in Laureate Education Inc. (n.d.) explained that the community consists of people, purpose to community, process in which the training is developed, communication and social presence.
Sustaining the Online Community
Students who start their online learning experience unprepared may drop out early in the course (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). For this reason, instructors should reach out to students early once they recognize that the students are not present, and students, in general, appreciate the follow-up (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Further, it is the responsibility of the administration, instructors and students to build the community and sustain its presence. For example, institution could offer online orientations to help students getting familiar with the environment; by this means, students who do not want to pursue online learning could then leave without affecting the enrollment in actual courses (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).
Online Learning and the Community
Effective online instruction happen when the learners are able to interact with each other, with content and the instructor (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012). Additionally, when designing online courses, we have to include strategies that promote students’ engagement through the exchange of knowledge and experiences (Simonson et al., 2012). Similarly, in online learning communities we have to develop rules of engagement by stating expectations, frequency and how to engage (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). By this means, we will be able to facilitate learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions. We also have to provide an organized learning environment to help students navigate through the course; in addition, provide opportunities for students to collaborate, be reflective and continuously reinforce their sense of presence (Laureate Education Inc, n.d.).
Laureate Education Inc. (Producer). (n.d.a). Online learning communities [Video podcast]. Baltimore, MD: Palloff and Pratt.
Saragina, P. (1999). Creating an online learning community. Retrieved from http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/courses/instructors/guestlectures/saragina/index.asp
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Wilcoxon, K. (2011). Building an online learning community. Retrieved from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/761/building-an-online-learning-community