Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Setting the Stage for an Effective Online Learning Community

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
William Shakespeare
Although the tasks required to facilitate an online course differ from those required in a traditional classroom setting; they are no less important and will profoundly influence the cohesion of an online learning community. This post addresses four important questions regarding the care and feeding of online learning communities.   
How do online learning communities significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses?
The key components of an online learning community are comprised of the following elements; people, purpose, processes and methods (Laurate Education 2010). Personal interaction within a structured environment forms the basis for knowledge construction (Constructivism). Crucially, the online facilitator must create a mutually supportive environment which encourages respectful discourse amongst all members of the community.
Student satisfaction is based on perceptions of the quality of the educational experience (metacognition). According to (Boettcher, & Conrad 2010) active and engaging dialogues extending beyond minimum course requirements are indicative of an effective online learning community. In a Constructivist based learning community, educational quality is proportional to the quality of community member inputs.  
 What are the essential elements of online community building?
As noted in (Laurate Education 2010), The facilitator/mentor must set the stage for knowledge acquisition by carefully selecting and guiding learning experiences within the (Vygotsky’s) Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Thus, selection of learning experiences perceived as too easy or difficult to grasp will inhibit the learning process. While the core principles of creating an online learning community embody Constructivism, neglecting Behaviorist and Cognitive doctrine must necessarily cause course effectiveness to suffer.
For example, if the facilitator fails to create a safe and welcoming learning environment, student attrition will increase and the community will languish. Likewise, with the choice of learning resources, as selecting poorly designed reference material will impede knowledge acquisition and retention. Thus, while online learning communities place students at center stage, the facilitator is responsible for setting the stage and directing the actors.     
How can online learning communities be sustained?
As noted above, and detailed in (Laurate Education 2010), the facilitator must set the stage for effective facilitator-student and student-student interaction. In most online courses, the first two weeks are critical to establishing goals and expectations. To prevent feelings of isolation and despair, facilitators should personally acknowledge each student and frequently (at least daily) monitor student interactions. As mentioned these principles are congruent with conventional Behaviorist-based motivation theories. Careful attention to setting the stage for the community in the first two weeks, fosters a sense of belonging, while simultaneously creating a self-regulating community of learners.   
What is the relationship between community building and effective online instruction?
A functional learning community allows each member to shape their perceptions of reality through the mutual exchange of information. This information—in turn—is filtered through existing nodes of information for; adoption, modification, or rejection. Since the community is responsible for exchanging information on pre-selected core concepts, a breakdown in communications will adversely impact knowledge acquisition. The facilitator must take an active role in; policing student interactions, challenging students within the ZPD, and ensuring each student participates in community activities.
Boettcher, J., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu


  1. I am looking forward to following your blog during this course

  2. Hi Rob,

    Nice to see you in another class. I look forward to reading your blog posts!

  3. Rob, I'm following your blog and looking forward to your posts. --Joan

  4. Rob,

    I am looking forward to interacting and following your blog over the next eight weeks.


  5. Hey Rob,
    I'm following your blog! Looking forward to sharing ideas in EIDT 6510.
    John Robinson

  6. Hi Rob, I look forward to following the progress of your blog. You have a great deal of excellent information on your blog. Enjoyed your PowerPoints.

  7. Hi Dr. F.

    Thanks for visiting. I think blogging is a great way to sharpen the mind while sharing knowledge with the L&D community. It is interesting to note that a large segment of my viewer's hail from Russia.