A great example of learning in communities and collaborative learning is the ONL course itself. As part of this course, each group works together towards creating a shared body of knowledge by investigating different aspects of the topic under study. One important success factor in this context is having a common goal and making sure that everyone has the correct understanding of that goal, otherwise, conflicts can arise and in the end the work of each individual student may deviate and therefore does not contribute to the overall goal that the group is following. Having group meetings, and also platforms for taking notes and working on documents collaboratively are some of the things that helps in this regard. The more the students interact with each other the better they can build a process to achieve their learning objectives and ensure success.

On the other hand, there are many things that can also go wrong in a networked collaborative learning environment as a community. For instance, the motivation of each course participant can play an important role in how much they are eager to collaborate with the rest of the team and how much importance they put into attending group meetings. It can easily happen that one student, for instance, works in isolation from the group ignoring the shared goals that need to be achieved. Moreover, each participant can have different capabilities, personal characteristics, and also way of thinking. For instance, some students may be introverts and do not talk much in group discussions while, the extrovert ones may talk more with each other and get a false idea that those with introvert characteristics are not interested in the group discussions! The group meetings can help the students to know more about each other and the way of working that each person has. This is very important in building a successful learning community. There are also very simple personality exercises that are not only fun to do, but can make the students realize that they are people with different characteristics and personality types in the group.

Also in building a learning community the choices we make on the platforms and technical solutions can also make a difference. For instance, some participants may already be familiar with a particular technology and platform, so it can be much easier for them to get onboard and start collaborating even when it comes to simple things such as note taking in meetings . On the other hand, for the others the learning curve to understand how a new tool or platform works can slow down their progress and may even make them appear as lazy or not as active to the rest of the team.

In summary, two of the factors that can be important in building a successful learning community, among many others, are: i) understanding and paying attention to the personal characteristics of different participants; and ii) choice of the right technology and platform and helping participants to get onboard and reduce the learning curve in adopting new tools. These are also in line with the findings that are reported in [1] by Brindley et al where they discuss collaborative group activities.

[1] Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3)

Topic 3 – Learning in Communities and Group Learning