Sunday, January 15, 2017

What is an online learning community?

An online learning community is a fascinating topic for me because this idea of online instruction has changed a lot over the past 10 years.  Around that time, I was taking my teacher licensure classes online and the program felt almost like a traditional classroom just moved onto the computer.  In the video “Online learning communities,” Dr. Palloff and Dr. Pratt discuss what makes up an online learning community.  The online learning communities consist of three main parts: People, Purpose and Process (Laureate Education, 2010).  These three items must be present to have an online learning community.  The online learning community must also have some other items that must be present for the community to exist.  There must also be a method and a social presence for the community to exist (Laureate Education, 2010). 

In my experience in the past as a student and as an instructor in an online learning community, the creation of the community takes work from everyone in the class.  The instructor plays a key role in this process, but the students must also be involved to help create the sense of community.  Dr. Palloff said in our video, the instructor is “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage (Laureate Education, 2010).”  That is an accurate definition of the instructor’s role in the online learning community.  The instructor has to guide the students down the path of learning and not just stand in front of the class like the traditional classroom.  “Learning communities create a dynamic where facilitators and learners are equal participants (Laureate Education, 2010).”  There must be a give and take from everyone involved in the class to create this dynamic environment a place to learn. 

Overtime, there needs to be some work to sustain this learning community.  A lot of this responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the instructor.  During the time of the course or learning module, the instructor needs to help keep the learning environment engaging and exciting for the students.  The true power of the learning community online comes from the learner-to-learner engagement (Laureate Education, 2010).  In my past experience, the classes that seemed to have no sense of community where in the classes where the instructors interacted with us on an irregular basis.  There was one class where the instructor would log in on Thursday after the discussion was due on Wednesday and just post replies to our posts.  Then on Sunday, that instructor would log in again and just grade our work.  There was never a continuation of the dialogue that was going on in the discussion area.  I have had an opposite experience of that with a course in my Master’s program.  During this class, the instructor logged in multiple times a week and made comments to keep the conversations going or to change the direction of the conversation to enhance our learning.  My learning from the latter class was undeniably more because of that regular engagement with our professor. 

In order to have effective online learning, there needs to be a sense of community in my opinion.  Dr. Pratt and Dr. Palloff discussed the benefits of creating the sense of community in the online learning environment.  When there is a sense of community, the student satisfaction increases, learning occurs, the students feel like they are a part of something larger and there is a social pressure to succeed in the class (Laureate Education, 2010).  If our goal as educators is to have our students learn, then we want to create the ideal learning environment for them to be successful in obtaining that goal.  Creating a sense of community has always been a part of the traditional brick and mortar classroom.  Teachers work hard to make their students feel comfortable and a part of the “family.”  If we work hard to do that in a traditional classroom, whey wouldn’t we work hard to create that in the online environment?


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


  1. Hi. I am now following your blog. Online instructional strategies. Walden Univ.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    I look forward to following your blog this semester.


  3. Drew,
    Nice job on this week’s blog post assignment. I think that the quote used by Dr. Pallof in this week’s video does an excellent job in describing the instructor’s role in an online learning community. It becomes the instructor’s responsibility to make sure that learners find others in the learning environment with whom they can build a collaborative relationship. To do this, the online instructor must design course elements that encourage the growth of learners in these new relationships (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 7). This supports your comments on how the instructor has a responsibility to down the learning path and not just stand in front of the classroom. It isn’t just the instructor’s responsibility to support the online learning community but the learners and administrators as well.

    Engaged learning is a collaborative learning process in which the instructor and learners are partners in constructing knowledge and answering essential questions. This strategic approach includes setting goals, establishing timelines, and creating and assessing authentic products (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 6). I had a similar past experience where there was no sense of community and the instructor failed to interact with learners on a regular basis. I took my first online course when online learning was still fairly new and there were a limited number of courses available online. I didn’t feel at all like part of a learning community or even a student in a classroom. We still had discussion forums but the conversations were not as deep and didn’t encourage a higher level of thinking as the discussions I’ve had in my courses as Walden University and there were more assignments that needed to be submitted on a weekly basis. I had no connection to the instructor or my fellow learners. Kearsley (2000) points out that the most important role of the instructor in an online course is to ensure a high degree of interactivity and participation. This means designing and conducting learning activities that result in engagement with the subject matter and with fellow students (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 5).

    I concur with your statement that in order for online learning to be effective there needs to be a sense of community. An online learning community leads to increased student satisfaction, increased learning, increased social pressure to succeed, and learners feel they belong to something larger.

    Conrad, R. & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities & Resources for Creative Instruction. (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Boss.

  4. Hi Andrew,

    You mentioned that Dr. Pallof stated that the instructor should be the guide on the side and not the sage on the stage. I think that is important for the instructor to play the role of the guide on the side, but in my experience with online learning, I have found that too many instructors are too far off to the side. They almost are hands off, and leave too much to the student. How can the instructor find the perfect balance?


  5. Hi Andrew,

    I agree, online courses have changed over time. I think you are right about having a sense of community while taking these types of courses. While convenient access to the course materials is helpful, sometimes students can feel alone.