Key success factors on an online learning community

A successful online learning community does not simply come into existence by chance. Rather, it must be carefully crafted in light of a myriad of philosophical, technological, and practical issues. While the context, content, and learning strategies are all important tangible considerations for any designer to consider (“Building online learning communities,” 2000), essential theoretical and pedagogical elements must also be considered. While the development of an exhaustive list of these success factors is beyond the scope of this assignment, several important elements will be briefly discussed.

General approaches and skills to the online learning community must be considered early in the development process. Palloff & Pratt (1999) list several foundational elements to any successful online learning community, including: access to technology, guidelines and procedures, participation, collaborative learning, and evaluation of the learning process. Technology access refers to the importance of all learners having equal access to necessary computer resources. Guidelines and procedures should be “loose and free-flowing” (Palloff & Pratt, 1999) yet at the same time provide a framework for successful completion of objectives. Buy-in from participants is certainly crucial and minimum levels of participation should be agreed upon. Any lack of participation or presence within an online community can, “critically influence how people behave online, form impressions of others, and negotiate common ground” (Preece, 2000). An atmosphere of collaborative learning should be fostered through the development of a “level playing field” (Palloff & Pratt, 1999) by which all learners should feel comfortable to share openly. Participants should be encouraged to provide feedback to one another on a continual basis (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Additional foundational keys to consider when developing successful online learning environments could include: “honesty, responsiveness, relevance, respect, openness, and empowerment” (Palloff & Pratt, 1999).

Ultimately, usability and sociability ingredients are the foundational building blocks for a thriving online community (Preece, 2000). As developers consider not only desirable content but also find out who the users will be but what their expectations are (Preece, 2000) they will be equipped with the foundational understanding necessary to begin the community development process. As online community is truly about people rather than simply technology, the needs of the target learner population must be of paramount importance before any decisions regarding technology are made (Preece, 2000).

References:

Building online learning communities. (2000) Retrieved May 9, 2004 from, http://www.elearningpost.com/elthemes/comm.asp

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Preece, J. (2000). Online communities: Designing usability, supporting sociability. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Online learning as a suitable environment for collaboration

Online learning provides an engaging and interactive means through which collaborative learning can take place. Learners are provided the opportunity in an online context to interact with the course content, instructor, and fellow learners through technology which is uninhibited by geographic or schedule constraints. Capella University serves as a prime example of the diverse student body that is possible though online learning. These online learners represent a wide variety of cultural and professional backgrounds. Each possesses a unique perspective and mix of expertise which ultimately benefits all the other learners.

Several modes of online communication exist including synchronous and asynchronous. Asynchronous discussion allows the learners to come together to dialogue as well as complete course assignments (Hofmann, 2003) while synchronous communication is crucial for, “establishing team roles, responsibilities, goals, deadlines, and for resolving differences of opinion.”(Curry, n.d.). The current Capella learning platform, Learning Space, supports only asynchronous communication. Students and instructors can log-in to their learning portal after supplying their username and password to view course schedule, media, course room, or learner profiles. Within the online course room, students and instructors can discuss in an asynchronous format the content of each learning unit. This is truly where the collaborative learning takes place, as students and faculty share their insights from the required reading, questions they may have, and even work they are completing towards meeting the course objectives.

As compared to other learning platforms available, Learning Space is quite archaic at best, and provides a cumbersome set of tools for the learner to navigate. For example, the platform does not keep a record of the previously viewed messages. This forces users to try to keep some kind of manual record of their status in the course discussion. Such frustrating intricacies of an online collaboration methodology can be solved through software enhancements to provide users with an easy-to-use mode for collaborative learning. I’m excited to learn that Capella is keeping these user issues a priority and is making upgrading to a more enhanced learning platform this summer. From my knowledge of the WebCT Vista platform, this will be a wonderful improvement for learners and faculty alike!

While the technology which enables online learning is the mode by which this learning methodology is possible, it is important to remember that the quality of the online learning environment is dependent upon the quality of the instructional design (Hofmann, 2003). The engaging collaborative format possible through the online context provides rich constructive learning opportunities for students.

References:

Curry, D. B. (n.d.) Collaborative, connected, and experiential learning: Reflections of an online learner. Retrieved May 2, 2004 from, http://www.mtsu.edu/~itconf/proceed01/2.html

Hofmann, J. (2003) Building success for e-learners. Retrieved May 2, 2004 from, http://www.learningcircuits.org/2003/jul2003/hofmann.htm

Challenges to student-centered learning in children’s ministries volunteer training

As the Director of Children’s Ministries at Christian Life Fellowship church, I am responsible to provide the children’s ministries volunteer training sessions in a manner which is most beneficial, convenient, and accessible for volunteers. While optional monthly volunteer training sessions are currently offered September thru May to provide volunteers the opportunity to receive professional development training on topics pertinent to current children’s ministry pragmatics, less than ten percent of volunteers take advantage of these training sessions. With the increasing schedule constraints that people are facing, it is conceivable that an online format of training would be a much more advantageous avenue for attaining volunteer development training than the current face-to-face monthly training workshop. The online format could provide a much more accessible avenue for attaining volunteer development training than the current face-to-face monthly training workshop.

The proposed online training format would consist of a variety of elements which would all serve the purpose of fostering an engaging and collaborative learning environment. Volunteers would take on the active roles of knowledge generation, collaboration, and process management (Palloff & Pratt, 1999) within the learning framework. These learners would receive an email with a link to view an interactive instructional presentation online. After choosing to participate and viewing this presentation, individuals could access additional resources relevant to the topic discussed and then participate in an asynchronous discussion board. The collaborative learning processes involved would afford volunteers the opportunity to work together in achieving deeper levels of knowledge generation through a, “shared process of meaning-making” (Palloff & Pratt, 2001, p. 32). While not a pure “student-centered” format, this would be an initial step towards providing training in a more accessible, relevant, and engaging context.

The goal of this interactive learning process would be to provide volunteers with additional opportunities to ask questions and seek out additional resources beyond even what is covered in the instructional presentations. This constructivist learning format would entail a complete paradigm shift from the current instructivist learning philosophy that has permeated the volunteer that that is currently being offered. The current pedagogical foundation does not consider the needs of the learners. According to Land & Hand, “Pedagogical foundations form the affordances and activities of the environment and should be inextricably linked to corresponding psychological foundations” (Land & Hannafin, 2000).

From the needs, task, and contextual analyses that I have conducted, I have deduced that the technological, cultural, and pragmatics of the current scenario do favor the development of such student-centered online learning environments. Volunteers surveyed have indicated their interest in participating in a more convenient format of training, with 87% stating that they would like to participate in a sample online training workshop.

As I examine the logistical and financial considerations in making online training available, the pragmatic foundations, “recognizing the reality check of learning environment design and implementation” (Land & Hannafin, 2000) certainly illustrate the feasibility of developing an online training program using a combination of instructional presentations with synchronous and asynchronous communication. There is a no more efficient or effective means to provide ongoing training to my children’s ministries volunteers than through an online format.

– Jason

References:

Land, S. M., & Hannafin, M. J. (2000). Student-centered learning environments. In D. H. Jonassen & S. M. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities of online teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Instructional design in children’s ministries

The term “electracy” was a foreign term to me prior to this unit. However, I have been cognizant of its influence on education for quite some time. Electracy is defined as, “an ability to use technology to gather and reflect on the use of information for different purposes” (Erstad, 2003). Proficiency in this “literacy for a post-typographic world” that Erstad refers to is becoming a requirement for learners in the twenty-first century.

While learning domains remain constant, the modes in which concepts are learned certainly can be tailored to a given topic or lesson. As an instructional designer, I seek to continually evaluate and identify the most effective learning processes that I’ve used. I look to present content in the most relevant and applicable means possible. I agree whole-heartedly with the statement that Randy Christensen made this last week at the Assemblies of God National Children’s Ministries Conference when he said, “People equate the relevancy of the message with the relevancy of the method.” In the realm of religious education especially, now more than ever, relevancy is a crucial element to effective instruction. A relevant and balanced approach in instructional design is imperative.

Erstad summarized the necessary balance between formal learning contexts and more informal learning processes by stating, “The relationship between formal and informal ways of learning needs to be highlighted more strongly to create meaningful learning environments for students” (Erstad, 2003, p.26). The task for any instructional designer is to look to develop balance in the design and then for educators to maintain that balanced approach through the instruction. The reality is that there is no single design or approach that will meet the needs of all students. Flexibility on the part of all parties in the instructional design and delivery processes will ensure that an environment of customization is available.

Reference:

Erstad, O. (2003). Electracy as empowerment: Student activities in learning environments using technology. Nordic Journal of Youth Research, 11(1), 11-28.

Key elements of behavioral, cognitive, affective, and collaborative learning theories

Scholars have theorized that learning takes places through a multitude of domains, including: behavioral, cognitive, affective, and collaborative. Best practice models from throughout a variety of educational settings have confirmed the effectiveness of instructional strategies which identify these learning modes and seek to incorporate these learning processes, when applicable, into learning environments.

The behavioral or psychomotor learning domain focuses upon the processes of mastery of physical skills. Physical skills have been categorized in a variety of ways, but invariably include cognitive, psychomotor, reactive, and interactive domains (Romiszowski, 1999). Romiszowski (1999) stresses not only the general learning processes of psychomotor skill learning but also the instructional strategies necessary for skills development. The challenge for educators teaching physical skills is for learners to transfer knowledge of these skills into proficient practice.

Bloom first defined the cognitive domain of learning as one which deals with the, “recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of understandings and intellectual abilities and skills” (Reigeluth & Moore, 1999). While Bloom’s taxonomy is arguably the most well-known articulation of cognitive processes, others such as Gagne, Ausubel, Anderson, Merrill have all presented similar cognitive theories which express a variety of levels of interaction between learner and content. Therefore, the focus of cognitive learning is built upon the understanding that learners attain knowledge through a variety of interactions and processes.

The affective domain is one which, ”refers to components of affective development focusing on internal changes or processes” (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). Or, stated another way, the affective domain relates primarily to the motivational factors involved in learning. A taxonomy of internalization from least to most includes: receiving, responding, valuing, organization, and characterization (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). Affective components are strongly related to other elements of learning processes, and are at times not easily distinguishable.

Collaborative learning has been defined as, “a structured exchange between two or more participants designed to enhance achievement of the learning objectives” (Clark & Mayer, 2003). Collaboration has typically taken place in the classroom setting through the use of group work, etc. but has been expanded into a plethora of applications in the online learning environment. While traditional collaborative learning opportunities have typically been synchronous, many online instructional strategies now implement asynchronous collaborative exercises. These asynchronous collaborations are not dependent upon schedule constraints of learners or faculty. The undeniable fact exists that a variety of levels of structure exist among collaborative environments and that not all forms of collaborative learning prove equally effective (Clark & Mayer, 2003).

Each learning domain examined certainly clarifies important learning processes. The task for instructional designers and educators alike is to evaluate what the needs of the students are and then to employ strategies which help students meet instructional objectives.

References:

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2003). Learning together on the web. In e-Learning and the science of instruction. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Martin, B. L., & Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). Affective education and the affective domain: Implications for instructional-design theories and models. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructinoal-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol.
2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Moore, J. (1999). Cognitive education and the cognitive domain. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. II). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Romiszowski, A. (1999). The development of physical skills: Instruction in the psychomotor domain. In Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.