How to establish and foster an online learning community? 

During Topic 3 „Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning“ we discussed our experiences within the learning community that we are a part of currently. The question that was still on my mind when the topic was finalized: How can I create a successful, supportive and meaningful online learning community that gives learners the opportunity to benefit from each others thoughts and ideas? How can I improve my own abilities to facilitate an online learning community in practice? 
As my own courses start to grow I would like to know, what can I take into account in order to establish a learning community that is characterized by trust, a shared vision and a good overall learning ambition between the participants?

For my research, I started to look at J.V. Lock’s chapter „Laying the Groundwork for the Development of Learning Communities within Online Courses“. 
Out of this, I would like to discuss a rather practical approach. 
The „Five Guidelines for Creating an Online Learning Community“. Here, the author discusses basic issues, a  consideration of which can be of help when starting an online learning community.  

1: Awareness for the community and for the sense and value of an online learning community.

There is a need for the individual, which plans a learning community, to be aware of the implications that come with designing and developing a course. It is important to realize factors which establish and foster learning communities. 
I would argue that this is one of the most important points she mentions and a lot of things have changed in recent years due to the fact that establishing online communities is much more „the usual“ than it has been in 2007, when this article was written. As it has become much more the norm to teach online its might be more enticing to not reflect on this issue before starting an online learning community nowadays. However, there is still the need for this basic consideration of establishing an online community.

2: Addressing the design issues that support community building. 

Which structures could be implemented intentionally when planning a learning community?
In this case, it is all about planning ahead: which factors can be included in order to „create an online culture based on the four cornerstone of communication, collaboration, interaction, and participation“? As there are so many tools and designs to choose from, it seems very important to decide on the design of the course. As a result, the idea should be clear from the beginning, how the course works from a methodological perspective. Which structures do I want to facilitate in order to give the community members a chance to bond with each other. 

3: Putting in place mechanisms which facilitate the collaboration of the community. 

As collaboration contributes to a feeling of being connected to each other, several tools and ideas should be in place as to how the community’s members could be „in touch“ with each other. Those tools, as suggested by Lock, should be a collaborative space apart from the course’s structure, in order to give the members a chance to bond, even beyond the course’s environment. This seems very true for the purpose of a course in 2020. As we communicate and collaborate in so many different tools and environments, it seems important to select tools for collaboration as a course facilitator. In order to collaborate effectively but without technical difficulties, it can be a massive task for organizers to choose those tools wisely. 

4.: Emphasizing the „bigger picture“, looking beyond the own online learning community. 

There are different ways to emphasize this point. The idea of a successful online learning community goes beyond the course itself: There is the opportunity to include other courses, other teachers, other students, even the whole institution. Lock also points out the opportunity to think more globally in a quite literal sense: There is a global community of learners and educators who are very often willing to share their experiences, thoughts and approaches. And, of course, in the online world you will probably find a discussion on everything in a forum or beneath a youtube video.

5.: Seeing the option to change and improve the educational environment by the help of research that is conducted within the course. 

In a controlled online environment there is the option to clearly define the areas that are of special interest for the educational organizer. Designing, approaching and planning an online course might be changed completely if research shows, that there are other ways that might be more suitable to the learners, facilitators and the group as a whole. 

Jennifer V. Lock’s article presents a quite practical approach to the issue at hand. I enjoyed the approach and was surprised how this approach seems suitable for me in the year 2020 still, when many factors have changed since 2007 when the book was published. Of course, however, in the context of such a practical approach it seems key to try it out myself. In order to do so, I would like to follow her suggestions. 

Source: Lock, J.V. (2002). Laying the Groundwork for the Development of Learning Communities within Online Courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 3(4), 395-408. 

Wednesday, November 18th