Sitting in a traditional classroom environment back when I first attended college allowed for me to make connections with other students that I could potentially construct ideas with and build knowledge together. As online communities continue to grow, Dr. Palloff and Dr. Pratt talk about how it is vital toward student success for the learners to make a connection to other students as they learn the ins-and-outs of this new environment. As the learner acclimates to understanding how a learning management system works, time needs to one set aside for students to make a connection with one another so they do not develop a sense of isolation. The power of a learning community is steeped in learner-to-learner engagement as they collaborate within the environment. Learning communities are established by bringing people together with a purpose and having a process in place for their development. An ideal learning environment will enable students to explore content together, challenge one another, give support and provide professional feedback.
Within the online environment, the facilitator will take on a role that is different from the traditional classroom teacher. To create an effective online learning community, the facilitator must be familiar with the technology being used and work at setting the tone for the learning experience they will have. The course should be easy to navigate with naming conventions and include a welcome letter to the participants. Since the first two weeks of the course is critical, the instructor needs to have a strong presence in the course to help resolve any issue or answer questions that come up. As the course gets underway, the facilitator should model the type of behavior for the students that he/she would like for them to embody during their time together.
During the course, the online facilitator will become a guide for the learners functioning in an equal capacity with them and avoid becoming the center of attention to their learning. During the orientation to the online experience for many new to online community students, the instructor or facilitator needs to clearly communicate how they will be supporting the students in the online environment. As the instructor communicates their part, he/she will also need to establish expectations for the student’s involvement as well as some ground rules for how the students will need to interact with one another in order to make the community a safe place to share knowledge and ideas as they help one another to grow academically. These rules of engagement will help to clarify how they are to engage, how often they will be expected to participate and how often the institution will expect learners to participate for official purposes.
The benefits of establishing instructor involvement, the rules of engagement, establishing a sense of community where the students connect with each other and understanding the expectations for the course can lead to a high level of student satisfaction, a positive perception of the learning experience as well as accountability toward one another that will empower them socially to succeed. With the growing number of students from different generations participating in online courses, it is important to remember the significance in balancing technology with the course’s intended outcomes. Most students will take to the integration of a variety of technology tools needed to develop their skills to accomplish their academic goals, but care should be taken not to include an abundance to technology simply for the sake of using technology. As the student grows within the online community and builds confidence while making connections, the feeling of being a part of something greater than themselves offers an ideal opportunity for transformation and self-awareness.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu