“Learners in an online course cannot hide passively.  If they have not prepared and processed the content prior to posting their discussion responses, that shortcoming is evident to everyone” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).  This statement helps to illustrate the importance of student involvement and preparation during an online course.  Individually, a student may be drawn to an online course because of the lack of community and the feeling that the social connection is not necessary.  The reality though is learning requires social interaction.  Peers and the instructor force the student to consider the course content in a different light and help to build connections.  Collaboration with individuals who are working toward a similar goal helps to build the constructivist approach to learning and set performance expectations.

Research into creating an online community uncovered an article written by Kevin Wilcoxon for Learning Solutions Magazine.  He argues that three factors must be built into a successful online learning community.  A social presence allows students to identify with other students.  This facilitates communication and interaction.  A cognitive presence allows for the exploration and development of understanding.  The final factor is the teaching presence which encompasses all the traditional elements or instructional design along with the role of the instructor.  “Thus, teaching is not the sole responsibility of the instructor within a learning community” (Wilcoxon, 2011).  Instead, the instructor spends most of their time facilitating student development and providing guidance through the content.

Many adult learners were students in primarily lecture based courses.  Their ability to adjust to learner based approaches can cause frustration.  Instructors need to realize this and accept the evolution of students to the online environment.  Moving these students from a passive role into a more dynamic, interactive role takes time.  Instructors need to ask good questions in discussion forums and carefully monitor student performance to ensure the interactions are occurring as expected.

Taking the time and effort to build a learning community helps the instructor to not only pass on content to the student, but allows for the students to take responsibility for their own development.  The social presence of students allows for the initial support of each other, and then evolves into more in depth discussion and advanced cognitive development.  The instructor must be present for this, but their hard work at building a community will provide long-term benefits.

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

Wilcoxon, K. (2011).  Building an online learning community.  Learning Solutions Magazine [online article].  Retrieved January 11, 2014 from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/761/building-an-online-learning-community


5 thoughts on “Communities and Development

  1. Matthew Pittman

    Hi, Don,
    Great post! I know I had a misconception of online learning initially, I believed that you could be very passive as an online student. I found very quickly that nothing could be farther from the truth. It is imperative that students are engaged and participatory in the learning experiences.

  2. LorenSpinks

    Hi Don,
    I loved that you put more stress on the student’s involvement and responsibility. You said “The instructor must be present for this, but their hard work at building a community will provide long-term benefits.” I think this is spot on. Especially for older learners, it makes no sense to try to force them to take responsibility. If you do, they are just complying and not really “learning”. I like that you stressed the “social presence” as well. I think that is a really important element that we sometimes forget. I think Walden has done a good job of using outside sources (like these blogs) to help us get a better sense of one another. Great post! -Loren

  3. Robert Talbot

    Two main ideas I have so far are the importance to realize that all are in the teaching (or training) of of a community of students in a course, and are responsible. The other is keeping learners engaged, done at varying stages with varying strategies (as we shall see in the Conrad-Donaldson text). By the way,your post is superb.


  4. ewestmore

    Hi Don,

    I like your post. I think you made some great comments about the responsibility of the learner in the learning community. I do think this can be a challenge, with a variety of learners. Thansk for your post.


  5. K. Riddick

    Hi Don. Thank you for mentioning social presence, cognitive presence and a teaching presence because they are all needed when setting up an online community. Social presence helps the students to build trust with the students and the instructor. Providing a cognitive presence helps the students to recognize what they have learned and to connect it with their life experiences. With the teaching presence, I think it is the instructor’s job to motivate the students, to keep everything in order and students focused, to provide feedback and to guide the students towards success.



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