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Online Learning Communities

July 10, 2012 1 comment

A weak online learning community can lead to high student attrition rates and low levels of learner satisfaction (R. Paloff & K Pratt. n.d. Laureate Education, Inc.) Hence, I’d like to focus on properties of successful online learning communities. I believe they must be “two-way” streets. Students must reach out to instructors and peers when necessary and instructors should stay in touch with students and involved in the dialogue. I’d like to discuss issues that make an online learning community satisfying for students, touch on the essential elements of building and sustaining online communities, and finally, tie a strong community to effective online instruction.

First let’s define an online community. Drs. Paloff and Pratt, in their video “Online Learning Communities,” said successful communities have three main elements:

  1. People
  2. Purpose
  3. Process

People are necessary to create a social presence or a sense of familiarity. The purpose of online communities is often tied to the transfer, application, and assessment of knowledge. Process refers to the way a course is delivered.

Strong online communities generally operate around clear guidelines that define, for example, the frequency of user participation and tone. They also thrive on creative, supportive instructor facilitation, and learner engagement.

Learner-to-learner engagement was essential to student satisfaction. In fact, Dr. Paloff related learner engagement and empowerment to social constructivism. Successful online communities transfer the focus from instructor to the student – however, that does not mean the instructor’s role is not critical. For example, I’ve heard educators in online environments referred to as “guides on the side.” Dr. Lawrence Ragan, in his article “10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching…” negates that phrase. He said the best thing an instructor can do is “show up and teach.” Drs. Paloff and Pratt supported Dr. Ragan’s notion and were adamant that instructors must be present to set the tone of the class. Tone setting can be done by actively and regularly contributing to discussions and asking questions that help students build upon their learning. However, Drs. Paloff and Pratt warn against instructors being intrusive with extensive postings – and individual responses. This forces an environment of Facilitator-to-Learner and stifles the Learner-to-Learner aspect of online classrooms.

Successful online communities are respectful, safe, and dynamic. This respect should be modeled by the instructor. Drs. Paloff and Pratt warned instructors in “Best Practices for Online Facilitation” against being disrespectful or pejorative or “making [students] feel like they’re stupid.”

Rather than calling the student “wrong” or “stupid” Drs. Paloff and Pratt said they respond to off-topic posts with “C” words. For example:

  • Confused e.g. “I’m confused about what you mean. Can you elaborate?”
  • Concerned e.g. “I’m concerned that you feel this way. Can you tell me why?”
  • Clarification e.g. I need some clarification. Can you help me understand where you are going?

Of course they also said tone-setting is an art that takes practice to perfect.

Finally, ideal communities also yield what Paloff calls “scholar-learners” who take responsibility for their knowledge acquisition (Paloff. n.d. Laureate Education, Inc.)

Works cited:

Paloff, R. & Pratt, K. (nd). Best Practices for Online Facilitation. Laureate Education, Inc. Baltimore, MD.

Paloff, R. & Pratt, K. (nd). Online Learning Communities. Laureate Education, Inc. Baltimore, MD.

Ragan, L. (nd). “10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education.” Faculty Focus. Referenced from http://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/principles-of-effective-online-teaching-best-practices-in-distance-education/

Categories: Walden 6510