Creating On Line Learning Communities

I love the definition of a learning community presented in this article. It is focused on constructivist learning principles …an approach whereby learners are actively involved in creating knowledge often through their own experiences, rather than passively receiving information.  Constructivist teaching encourages students to critically think and reflect on their learning.  It is aimed at creating motivated and independent learners, which is ultimately one of the goals of offering a more self-directed learning experience to our students through blended learning delivery formats.  I think that this is a key mindset in developing a hybrid or on line course because often when we turn the learning over to students it is to get them to read something, make notes, in other words do the things that replace what we do in our lectures.  The article suggests that we engage students at a deeper level so that they in fact create the content and the meaning of it themselves.


As we move to offering a hybrid course in the winter 13 semester, my faculty team has had discussions on how to create a community of learners.  The hybrid we are delivering is a team based course and by its very nature is meant to develop high performing teams who meet their deliverables through positive working relationships.  So creating an environment for interaction is very important.   I like the 3 pillars of a learning community that are suggested in this article; a cognitive presence, a social presence and a teaching presence.  For our course, the Social presence will be very important…”the ability of participants to identify with the group, communicate in a trusting environment, and develop social relationships by way of expressing their individuality”.  But it is the cognitive presence that I found most thought provoking.  What can we do in our course to move the students through the phases suggested in the article so that the learning is less passive?    Some ideas come to mind as I read through the article. I hope that as you read it you find yourself also thinking of ways to develop a community of learners.


Roberta Legacy

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One Response to Creating On Line Learning Communities

  1. Debra Bannister says:

    This is an excellent article for taking students to a higher level of cognitive engagement and learning. The author explains the phases of Cognitive presence – Triggering event > Exploration > Synthesis > Resolution – very clearly. I also like the Table 1. about Community Evolution framework which Conrad and Donaldson (2004) developed for understanding and applying phases of engagement. It also shows approximate timelines which is helpful, These authors put the Instructor Role of Challenger in Phase 4. I believe we also need to be the Challenger in Phase 1 and probably throughout each phase. Here is my rationale.

    Many students coming out of high school today find themselves mentally weak when it comes to adapting to a very different academic reality as they enter college or university. This similar weakness also happens when athletes move up to a higher level of performance or become part of a newly created team. Creating a mental toughness from the beginning through challenging beliefs and performance levels is key to succeeding as a high performance athlete. I believe our goal as educators is no different. We want to develop high performing students. The quicker we can help them to identify the demands of the new reality, challenge their current belief system about the correlation of effort and marks, help them to understand that failure is now an option, that they are expected to take ownership of their own learning and how to quickly create a community of support (peers, teachers and LLS) around them to help them cope and excel in this new environment. By challenging students early (in phase 1) we can accelerate their self-awareness. Higher self-awareness leads to a higher level of confidence, a willingness to take risks, to challenge themselves and their teachers so that they can actively engage in taking earlier ownership of their learning.

    If our educational system can help create earlier self awareness, social awareness and earlier social interaction, students will hopefully feel more secure as a community/group to challenge and be challenged, to problem solve and think critically and analytically. This early mental toughness would hopefully motivate students to provide valuable feedback in weeks 1, 2 and 3 about how they would like to be educated throughout the course both on-line and in-class. We as teachers could challenge their self-designed or self- determined learning pathways and goals using the guidelines and learning outcomes defined by the college to hold students and teachers accountable. Of course the student and teacher’s ability to challenge, learn and adapt quickly will require a different educational model and technological environment that can support and deliver in “real time” a customized learning experience everyone. Oh to teach, perchance to dream:-)

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