The Benefits of Online Communities in Technology-aided Learning

A social community life is a natural tenet of humans. With the growth of technology and the breakdown of geographic barriers through internet, due to which the online communities are the new hub for innovation and learning. Similar to real life communities, online communities also have their operating norms, formal and informal roles for all members, shared interests, and a trust that creates the foundation for effective interactions. Most important is the onus that the online communities must engage people in a learning process over time.

While there are many benefits that can be cited for creating online learning communities, here are the ones that most successful leaners and learning managers swear by:

  • Even if there is an established platform for formal learning within an organization, most employees learn outside the realm of formal training while chatting with other employees, seeing them work, gaining hand-on experience, and through the advice from their peers or supervisors. By formalizing these communities, we can extend and strengthen learning through informal interactions.
  • Practical knowledge about how the job is performed is often extremely difficult to capture and deliver through traditional training programs. Communities are a way to encourage the practice of sharing practical know-how that otherwise remains untapped.
  • Online Communities for learning can create an organic repository of knowledge and relationships that can be used to increase the effectiveness of the corporate learner and the overall competitive advantage of a company.

While the benefits of online learning communities are clear, developers should consider more than just the technology when creating such a community for organizational learning. There are several approaches that help engage learners in collaborative online learning environments; it is best to employ a mix of two or more to suit the learner profile you have in mind.

Strategies for People management within an online learning community

  • Clearly define roles within the group, including the instructor, peer instructor, group leaders, and individual learners. Detail out the responsibilities and interdependencies.
  • Make smaller groups to create space for collaborative activities and group projects. The groups can be a mix of advanced and new learners to make sure that they can support and complement each other.
  • Even within the online community, it is important to provide a way for learners to create personal profiles that include photos and salient information on the topic. This will be an appropriate ice-breaker and a foundation for social learning to begin and flourish.
  • In addition, it is always wise to include guidelines for online and offline etiquette. All the participants should agree to follow the prescribed norms to lead to successful group and individual learning outcomes.
  • However, it is important to note that keeping learners engaged in an online environment for a prolonged time can be challenging. To counter boredom and monotony, foster a buddy-system by making two or more learners responsible for joint participation and contribution. Activities, such as development of a case studies or postings in the discussion area, can be encouraged to kindle the spirit of peer learning.

In the end, choosing the right technology to support online communities is of prime importance and is reflective of its success or failure. The collaborative environment should be easy-to-use and hassle free. In addition to features, simplicity and user-friendly access are the most important attributes to consider. The goal of technology should be to serve the community, and the community should spend their time learning about the topic, than about how to use a given technology. In addition, technology should be transparent to the instructor and the learner; no technical knowledge should be required to customize or manage the environment. A number of different tools can be employed to create an effective online learning community. These tools are:

Synchronous tools:

·         Audio-conferencing;

  • Web-conferencing;
  • Video-conferencing;
  • Chat; and
  • Instant messaging.

Asynchronous tools:

  • Discussion boards;
  • Links;
  • Group announcements;
  • Group email; and
  • Surveys and polls.

Content Creation:

  • Courseware;
  • Streaming media;
  • Narrated slideshows; and

·         E-books.

With increasing interest in knowledge management and evolving learning technologies the success of online communities is evident. Taking into consideration the learners and their learning needs, appropriate technology can be utilized to create effective learning.

Source and suggested further reading: Building Communities Strategies for Collaborative Learning by Soren Kaplan

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