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:



9 responses to “Online Learning Communities

  1. So, Merrolee told me some interesting things about you today…wouldn’t YOU like to know. 🙂

    Keep posting, I am really impressed with how articulate you are and I admire how you reference your resources for blog posts! I just blurt out whatever is in my head! I think your way is slightly more professional…;)

  2. Sorry, I sat on this page a while and wanted to comment – I used to be involved in sveral online communities in my teens and I felt I got much closer to my online friends than was ever possible in real life specifically because you were NOT face to face…yes it can be hard to tell sarcasm at times, but overall there is the potential for a lot of sharing and deep thought!!

  3. occupationaltherapyotago

    Hi Karen
    I love hearing from you and enjoy lurking and learning on you blog. To answer your various questions . No I don’t have a PHD only a MHSc (Hons) I’m not sure about doing a PHD at the moment, I suspect Merrolee will beat me to it.

    I checked in with Merrolee re the gossip session and made her confess up -also got out of her all she learnt about you!!.

    I’m interested that you perceive me as articulate, I have to say I am envious of your skills and wish I had had them at your stage of becoming an Occupational Therapist – mine are hard earned and still developing.

    I loved your SOAP blog – but my comment on it reminds me of a comment you made somewhere on my blog about blogging and it being hard to pick up sarcasm, or genuine praise. I realised exactly that after I posted my comment to you and I was left hoping that you would see the comment as a compliment. Blogging has made me so aware of the joys and pitfalls of written conversations. It is interesting that as a child and as a 20 year old travelling that I did a lot of letter writing, phonecalls were either too expensive or there was no available phone. Then I moved into the use the telephone don’t write unless you really have to, and suddenly blogging and emails have me going full circle back to the importance of the written word.

    As to why I reference it is a good way of accessing the information again, and keeps me safe copyright wise.

    I also do a bit of teaching on reflecting – how to and its benefits. For me the challenge is getting depth to reflections – I get to see a good few reflections on various topics. What I tend to see is people getting to what I call a first level of reflecting that of describing what happened during an event, or activity and coming to what they learnt as a result of the event or activity. I see the next level, the second level as being really important that is the taking of something that you noticed during the task and saying I need to know or understand more about this. It is achieved by bringing even more perspectives to the thing you noticed (i.e. the issue, or piece of knowledge). The perspectives can be things like your past experience, feedback you have received, theory, literature, self assessment, an expert etc. and analysing it all and at the end of this being able to say my understanding/learning is now …. this should take you a good few steps on from your initial reflecting on doing the task and the learning that came from it. So I guess I am trying to role model/keep practising bringing different perspectives to a topic that has grabbed my interest and hence hopefully gaining greater learning. After all starting this blog for me was all about seeing what on going professional development I could get from Blogging!!!. I have to say sometimes it feels like a lot of effort.

    I think in setting up a blog I undervalued the benefits of other bloggers perspectives something I am appreciating more and more.
    I hope that fills you in on me a little.

  4. Great post Jackie.

    I just read it again, and really appreciate the information relating socialisation to learning outcomes. Another piece of the puzzle. 🙂

    I put together an article earlier in the year relating the suitability of online learning for students with a kinesthetic learning style preference which you might find interesting.


  5. Hi there, I am a lecturer in the school of midwifery. I am not doing a formal course as such, but am playing around wit blogs and wikis. We are in the throes of working on an online midwifery degree. Anyway, my question is: how do I get the link into my blog. Cheers Sarah

  6. occupationaltherapyotago

    Hi Sarah
    Nice to know you are also experimenting with blogging. In wordpress and I guess it is something similar in blogspot to set up delicious you go into your dashboard(control panel), go into widgets and they allow you to select delicious as a link – you then just put in the details. If your site doesn’t have delicious as a choice I think you just do it as a link. Hope this helps.

  7. Hi Jackie

    Your comment on levels of reflection grabbed my attention. So far in my blogging experience I feel like I’m skimming the surface – flitting from one article to the next, one blog to the next and not really ‘reflecting’ fully. Perhaps that’s the next step. Interesting read, thanks.


  8. Hi Jackie,
    I enjoyed this post, and being bogged down by being part of devloping an internationalised e-learning Msc in Advanced OT (phew), it raises many issues I’m also grappling with.
    At the moment, I am experimenting with different styles of communicating with students online. I know that to be an effective online facilitator one has to inject more “personality” into ones words, given that words may be all there are.
    It feels strange, and I am consious that I am deliberating over every word – is it friendly/inclusive/transparent/upbeat etc . BUT it seems to be worth it. I have noticed that language makes a huge difference when trying to engage students on discussion forums especially. The more informal and frequent my posts the better the response. If I drop off, the students tend to as well… I have a feeling the MSc may be very labour intensive!
    Add in the international element, the logistics of asynchronous leaning and negotiated assessment and I want to hide… Any tips?
    Ah well. Onward and upwards as they say.

  9. Jackie
    I am a late comer to your reflection and can relate to all of the things you are saying. This was in august and the points you make are probably even more significant. I would be interested to know when you revisit them, if you have anything further to add to what you have written here.

    I agree with your observations that you need to blend in some other mechanisms for interacting online apart from text – hence the need for using some audio and visual material and also introducing some synchronous sessions using computer conferencing. How do you feel the 10 min lecture sessions in the course have helped build relationships – both within the class and with other networks?

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