The following observations were gleaned from viewing a video in which instructional design industry experts discuss and highlight the benefits of creating an online learning community for facilitators of online learning experiences.
Online learning communities significantly impact student learning in that they facilitate a deeper learning experience than a more instructor-centered approach would. The peer to peer dynamic present in an online learning community allows for exploration of concepts within a forum where students both challenge and support each other in the learning process. The instructor does establish his/her presence and it is clear that he/she is an integral part of the community but in order to provide for a transformative experience the instructor coaches from the wings so that students can construct their own knowledge. Student satisfaction is positively impacted because they feel that they are apart of a dynamic exchange where their input is valued and expected.
The essential elements of an online community are a facilitator who understands his/her role as a source of guidance, learners who are engaged and make professional contributions to the community and a clear focus and purpose. It is essential to online community building that each involved party has a good sense of their responsibility to the course. The vitality of the community depends on the level of investment and engagement of the participants. This engagement contributes to the sustenance of online communities. Online communities are also sustained through meaningful support from the administrators of the program where the course is utilized.
Community building has a strong correlation to effective online instruction. A thriving online community where guided participants interact and share their observations as they learn and reflect on new concepts leads to stronger learning outcomes and increased self direction. This increased initiative can result in participants bringing even more insights and observations to share within the community resulting in richer discussion and deeper learning.
The video resource really drove home the importance of the instructor adapting the ‘guide on the side’ versus the ‘sage on the stage’ stance. This element–the instructor guiding and coaching rather than lecturing–is essential to the co-constructed knowledge process and is the bedrock upon which a strong and effective learning community is built.