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Building an Online Learning Community

The main purpose of online environments is to build learning communities among participants (facilitator and students), where the common goal is to progress the community knowledge, and as a result, the advance and growth of individual knowledge.

To achieve the common goal , participants have to be involved in a collective effort of understanding: dealing with complex issues, figuring things out for themselves, reflecting on their learning, becoming critical thinkers, communicating and working with people from different backgrounds, cultures and views, and sharing their learning with other members.

Concisely, the sense of community among the participants in an online learning environment is an important aspect of a successful course. Participants have to feel that they belong to a helpful and supportive group of learners to work and learn together and also to reduce the feeling of isolation that online learners could face while taking online courses.

Participation, collaboration, interaction and motivation are meaningful and related words within the development of learning communities. The absence of any of those can cause the failure of the goal and the purpose of collaborative online environments: the achievement of knowledge.

Participation

In collaborative online learning environments, participation is based on inputs and contributions that learners make. To be actively present in a learning community, students have to contribute their own thoughts and make comments about others’ ideas. Messages have to be coherent ideas and thoughts supported by references that promote dialogue between participants.

Since online courses are most of the time discussions among learners, participation becomes an essential factor to keep alive the learning community, promoting collaboration and interaction between learners and instructor.

Collaboration

Collaboration in online learning environments is considered to be any activity where two or more learners work together to build meaning. Participants can work collaboratively in the same task or assignment, giving different points of views, ideas, comments and life experiences, producing and promoting individual and group knowledge.

Participants’ collaboration in learning communities is necessary not only to contribute to the community knowledge, but also to support, encourage and help each other to keep up with the course and with the contributions. Collaboration can be considered a way of socialization between students that are geographically dispersed.

Interaction

Moderators choose different techniques to encourage interaction among participants: information retrieval, emails, bulleting boards, conferencing.

There are different types of interaction in online learning environments that allow patterns of communication in the community: one-alone, one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many.

Motivation

Most online students are adult learners that take distance courses because they want to improve their skills, learn something new or take specific job training; no matter the reason, there is always the necessity of motivation.

Collaborative online learning environments require participants that are highly motivated with their learning process: environments that awake curiosity and enthusiasm in the individuals.

Building learning communities is the main purpose of online courses. Therefore, online students and instructors have to keep in mind that participation, collaboration, interaction and motivation are important aspects that should be present in any online environment to get the most from the virtual classroom experience.