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Thursday, January 7, 2016

What are Online Learning Communities?

When I speak of an Online Learning Community, what vision does that bring to mind? Do you think of a group of individuals who learn from one another? Is this community organized or is it represented much like a Facebook page?

Online learning communities can very easily be created through various means. Conrad and Donaldson believe that as long as there is “collaborative acquisition of knowledge that engage others through interaction and encourage sharing” [that it is considered an] online learning environment (2011, p. 3). If we take Conrad and Donaldson’s definition, there are many ways in which a learning community could be formed. It could be formed in a very structured environment such as an online course or it could be an informal structure such as a blog, twitter, or Facebook page that encourages sharing and receiving of knowledge.

Within my professional realm as an Instructional Designer, I tend to focus my attention more on the structured online learning community environment and how to create that environment so that it is rich with learning and interaction. This can be a challenging endeavor. Palloff and Pratt believe that learning communities that are structured need to include five different elements shown below (Laureate, 2010).
Using the elements above, do you believe that it is imperative that an online course contain within it these elements of an online learning community in order for it to not only be effective and satisfying but also keep the students engaged? How much value do we give interaction within a course?

If we look only at human nature, it is fairly evident that we are very social beings. Due to that fact, we long to be a part of a group. If a course that is either online or face-to-face is not able to engage each of the participants, it seems highly likely that individuals will become disengaged and not continue to desire to be a part of that class. This could also happen if there is negative conversation within the group. For these reasons it is very critical that methods, processes and purpose be intertwined within this social interaction of the class. By creating all of the elements within an online learning community, one can sustain this community to the point that it thrives and grows and becomes something much bigger than expected.

I would love to have you share your thoughts on this subject!


Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from


  1. Wow! You hit this one out of the park Teri! The graphics are spot on and greatly enhance the learning experience.

    As you recall from reading (Boettcher & Conrad 2010 p.20), learners do not need to learn all content, but they do need to learn core concepts.

    In light of the fact that your excellent post drives home the bulk of this week’s core concepts, do you think that a Constructivist online learning community slows the learning process due to the onerous group interaction requirements?

    In other words, are there times when self-study is more practical than community-based knowledge construction?

    Boettcher, J., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  2. Hi Rob,

    Great question! I think that it is important to have both actually. It seems to me that online communities are sometimes taking the wrong path. Weekly posts are important aspects for building the community of learners but from an ISD perspective, I think we are losing the instructor truly being the expert and enhancing the class with their wisdom. I think they need to prove that they are the expert and not just a person guiding discussion. I'm not saying that facilitation is not needed, it just needs to be part of the management of the course not the entire. There also needs to be a chance for application of the course material. I would love to see a group activity in which everyone participated in, for example, creating an online course . I think it would enhance the learning experience two-fold. What are your thoughts?

    1. Terri,

      I completely agree that instructors need to be perceived as subject-matter experts. In fact, I wrote as much in a white paper on teaching strategies I recently drafted for a College Professor. I will try groom and publish the paper on my blog today.

  3. Teri,

    Wow! I really love the graphic you created. I think this is a fantastic visual aid to understanding the concept of the learning community and how each of these elements have their part in making the community work. I really like where you took their basic principles, expanded them and turned them into a visual illustration. This really makes it clear even to someone who had not watched the video. To answer your question on the appropriate level of interaction necessary in an online course. I think it is depended on the course itself. I know in my Project Management course, I had more questions than in other courses. I also really like it when the instructor not only responds to posts, but near the end of the week they either post how they would respond or they summarize the weeks learning, this has helped to confirm to me I have gained from the week the most important elements. I also think the instructor needs to make sure the interaction in moving in the correct direction and step in if there is too much deviation from the weeks learning objectives, or if a redirect is needed. I have often had instructors that have posed a question to the group or specific individuals within the group to get them back on course. I would like to hear your thoughts on this approach by the facilitator.