There are many advantages to students who are involved in learning communities. Studies show that students maintain greater academic achievement, greater involvement in classes, more motivation, greater intellectual development and increased retention. Overall, these students are often more engaged and satisfied with their college experience and are more likely to remain in school.
How is a learning community created?
Based off of “Building an Online Learning Community” a learning community should consist of three things:
1. Teaching presence; involves the elements of design and organization (of the class), direct instruction, and facilitating discourse. Overall, teaching presence can be described as providing assistance to individuals in need of help by the instructor. Making sure students have direct instruction contributes to the sense of community and learning.
2. Social presence; involves social context, interactivity, and a sense of privacy. Social context relates to a students perceptions about the class experience (i.e feeling warm versus cold, informal versus formal, etc.) Interactivity is a sense of participation, dialogue, and reciprocity. Trust works together with privacy. Privacy builds trust, and trust eases privacy concerns.
3. Cognitive presence; is the process of inquiry by the group. To achieve cognitive presence, instructors need to be direct in their assignments, and encouraging students to integrate their ideas. To move through integration, instructor and students should work together to diagnose and correct misconceptions, ask probing questions, provide additional information, and model critical thinking. This does not occur without instructors being direct.
How can an instructor build a learning community online?
An online instructor’s first job is orientation. Online instructors should give an overview of the content of the class, as well as a social orientation. Instructors should start with informing students about who is in the course, including the ways everyone will interact with each other, and letting the class know it is a community that should work together. Instructors should establish their teaching presence and build cognitive presence with direct instruction, facilitating discussions, and timely feedback.
Another important concept, trust- it’s important that students feel as if they can trust the instructor and the other students. In the online learning environment, trust is built through positive experiences and familiarity – getting to know others in the course.
The last important component is interactivity. Interactivity can happen naturally in a traditional classroom environment; however, in an online class it has to be built. Interactivity is built based on the awareness of others in the course. Utilizing tools for example, learning management system tools such as class roster, live chat, and discussion boards, encourage interactivity by promoting awareness of others. The last component in interactivity is maintaining online discussions.
Some discussion management tips:
- Ask good questions and provide complete initial instructions
- Provide ongoing monitoring
- Redirect, provide additional instruction, clarify as necessary
- Summarize at key junctures, prompting movement toward resolution
- Privately prompt those who participate too much and those who don’t participate enough
- Move discussions through the cognitive phases, using prompts
- Move the group through the phases of learner engagement, evolving expectations
All in all, learning communities are beneficial to both instructors and students. Taking the three components of a learning community as an outline, and applying them in an online learning environment creates a community of learning, online.