Online Learning Communities: Why Students and Teachers Need Them

Scot Osterweil, a Professor at the MIT Media Lab, said in an article that “it’s strange. We’ve always seen technology as a way of increasing productivity and saving labor. And now that we’re actually reaping those benefits, we don’t know what to do about it.”  As our society travels further into the Age of Information, we tend to forget how to teach our children to be lifelong makers and learners. Since learning is really a communal activity, community-based education can help children unleash their inner creativity. So, how can online learning communities benefit teachers and students?

Redistributed Learning

With the proliferation of high-speed broadband connectivity and smart devices, the Internet became the perfect portal to host online learning communities. “Learning Redistributed”, a Verizon Enterprise article written by Phil Puthumana and Tamara Closs, shows us that “technology isn’t a tool anymore—it became a building block for learning and social interaction.” Now, they’re actively promoting these learning opportunities online, collaborating with each other to draw strength, and generate innovative ideas via social networks.

Classrooms without Borders

Online Learning Communities

Since online learning communities are very fluid and not space-based, the digital realm has become the classroom of the 21st century. Students and faculty can freely interact amongst themselves, without being physically present. It’s like being part of a classroom without walls and borders. Anyone who shares the same ideas and wants to learn can join the community. M. Gail Derrick, Interim Dean at the Regent University, believes that “once learners are able to understand their own capacities for learning, they are fundamentally changed with regard to their personal view of their capabilities and competence.” In the last few years, more educators are seeing the benefits of online learning and these are:

  • Better retention – lessons and information are easily absorbed, remembered, and understood.
  • Easy access to information – aside from Google, students can ask experts or teachers from across the globe.
  • Real-time results and feedback – teachers can grade their student in real-time, and students can get their feedback immediately.
  • Content is always up-to-date – students can access content anytime they want, while educators keep these lessons updated.

Training students for the 21st century workforce – just like schools, offices are also going digital and students need to be trained in this type of environment.

The Different Types of Communities

Basically, there are two types of online learning communities: the synchronous and asynchronous community. Synchronous communities are the “same time/any place” type of community. They would usually use online tools like instant messengers (Skype, Yahoo!, or MSN), to communicate and engage with other members at the same point of time. As for asynchronous communities, they’re the “any time/ any place” type of online community. Usually, they prefer using e-mails, slide shows, streaming videos, web logs, and discussion forums to exchange ideas and collaborate.

Thanks to these communities, it increases an educator and a student’s sense of “we’re all in this together.” It reduces social isolation and motivates them to participate more, while learning through social interaction.

Sustaining Your Online Community

As the community grows, teachers become more of guides to watch other everything. This also teaches them self-governance and to build a more collaborative learning experience. Below are some tips on how to sustain your online learning community:

  • Allow disagreements – disagreements are healthy and it should be encouraged within a learning environment. This will help them express their POVs (point-of-views) on different topics or lessons. As the community grows, students will learn how to step in and mediate if things get more heated.
  • Have online engagement guidelines – teachers can help draft a set of online guidelines for the community to follow. It also encourages the students to participate and pitch in their ideas for their online charter.
  • Establish guidelines for minimal participation – of course, the teachers should be everyone’s role model when it comes to participation. Also, this should encourage the students to engage more with their online peers.
  • Develop a course that focuses on developing social presence – students should first learn how to develop a positive online social presence. This could range from creating introductions and short bios about themselves. Also, these can be used during ice-breaker activities to help them engage more with each other.

Through shared experiences and social interactions, students can learn a lot from different online learning communities. They learn to communicate, engage, and collaborate with each other. Since it’s a form of education without boundaries, it transcends everything while helping students become better citizens of the future.