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 â€œloose and free-flowingâ€ (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, â€œcritically influence how people behave online, form impressions of others, and negotiate common groundâ€ (Preece, 2000). An atmosphere of collaborative learning should be fostered through the development of a â€œlevel playing fieldâ€ (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: â€œhonesty, responsiveness, relevance, respect, openness, and empowermentâ€ (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).
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.