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, â€œestablishing team roles, responsibilities, goals, deadlines, and for resolving differences of opinion.â€(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. Iâ€™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.
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