Online learning is becoming more and more accepted, available, and expected in education from middle school to university levels. Online learning communities impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses. According to Pratt and Palloff (2010), students co-construct meaning, support one another, draw information from each other, professionally support, correct, and give feedback in an online environment.
An instructor is not only a facilitator, a guide, but also an integral part of the online community with the students. It is their responsibility to create a safe environment so students can be who and what they are and to be able to talk freely without stress or worry. In this environment, they can freely express their own opinions (Pratt and Palloff, 2010).
One of the essential elements of online community building is the People. Through an online discussion community, one can get a sense of another, a social presence, to interact / communicate with others in the community. A second element is Purpose. What are the rules of engagement? HOW will the learners engage? How often will student learners be expected to participate? For official purposes, how often does the institution expect learners to participate? A third element is Process. Traditional methods and strategies used in a brick and mortar environment just do not transfer over to an online environment. The Power in a learning community is the learner to learner engagement. It is empowering for students to be responsible for their own learning. As social constructivists they are transformed into scholar / practitioners (Pratt and Palloff, 2010).
Online communities can sustain themselves when the instructor is as an equal partner – everyone is engaged, involved and present. Other means are through dialog and reflection. Reflecting on the learning helps to deepen the learning.
The benefits of an online community model are student satisfaction, perception of learning, feeling part of something larger than oneself, and social pressure to succeed. Being actively engaged in one’s learning helps break down feelings of isolation.
Several of the things I learned about an online community and being an effective instructor are: make the course easy to navigate, make the class warm and inviting, visit the classroom several times a day for the first two weeks, post a bio and encourage the students to post a bio, welcome each student individually, model behavior for students, create an icebreaker activity – does not have to be mandatory nor graded, relate to students on a personal level, and be familiar with the technology used in the classroom. If the instructor becomes “real” and approachable, it helps put the student at ease and helps with satisfaction and retaining students.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu