Monthly Archives: August 2007

Online Learning Communities

As can be seen in a previous blog ‘Communities of Interest’ I have recently been checking out the online information about how to develop and maintain effective learning communities. In looking at the online learning community I assumed I would find similar findings.

So in trawling through a number of readings what did I learn:

As with face to face communities the literature on online communities emphasizes that a sense of “community” is necessary for successful learning outcomes. There is recognition of a strong link between a positive social dynamic and cognitive learning.

And yet conversely the literature shows that online learning communities can have many members who act very much on an individualistic level. These people are usually successful and well motivated; they have other networks and supports. In effect they access the learning but they don’t appear to want or need the social aspect to assist with the learning – they get this elsewhere. To me the dilemma then appears to be one of recognizing quickly enough the member’s styles and needs. There appears to be a risk that people will fall through the gap between these two ends of a continuum that supports learning, ending up not being connected to the community and not getting the desired learning outcomes.

Interestingly when I looked at supervision of occupational therapists (see previous blog) – those therapists that built a range of networks and didn’t just rely on a supervisor to gain different perspectives appeared to gain more from supervision. So perhaps across many activities in today’s society an ability to develop and use networks is an important skill.

The cornerstones of developing a successful online community seem to be the development of; respect by members for each other and their perspectives, a common vision, shared perspectives, the ability of the facilitator (I may have to revisit these I’m not sure I have got the true cornerstones). Part of the facilitator’s role is seen as being about generating excitement, interest, relevance, purpose and value.

There is acknowledgement that the limited means of communication used in many online forums e.g. a strong emphasis on the written words, can affect the development of relationships. The face to face setting has the advantage of members being able to process, verbal, visual, non verbal information to assist us in developing our relationships with those in our communities.

I’ve been challenged by the concept that communities need artefacts “In highly literate communities like ours we need to find our own authentic artefacts around which we can express our unvoiced thoughts and which give meaning to the changes we aspire to”.(Friere) So what would be the artefacts of an online community be? –the reading suggested things like presentations, showcases, photo’s. I’m not sure…..

Well that’s it for tonight’s reflection. It’s past bed time.

Websites that contributed to this reflection:



Facilitating elearning communities

I have enrolled in a course on facilitating elearning communities. As part of that course I have to keep a reflective diary of my experiences. This is therefore the start of that journal.

The most exciting thing for me so far has been a link posted on the course to The Art of Building Virtual Communities… it is well worth a look with a great discussion and links. I have heard a lot about the lurkers in elearning communities – the people that visit your site/community but who don’t post and who we all try to image and give form to. However it made me think about the other people that make up the community the linkers, the learners and the leaders. One of the links on the site talked about the leaders ‘building the fire’ which encourages participation and learning. I have been linking/lurking/learning at other occupational therapy websites recently and it has been really interesting to see what topics have ‘gone on fire’ e.g. got lots of comments. The observation I would make is that so often it is what the second and third person who comment that ensure that there is a ‘fire’. For me more learning happens when I can see different perspectives.

Linkers, lurkers, learners and leaders are all welcome to contribute.

View of Dunedin from Bayfield