Online Learning Communities


September 4, 2013 by idinnovation

ID-10018651A community of learning is a community of students and faculty who explore content within the constraints of a course and co-construct meaning and knowledge about the content (Palloff and Pratt, 2013). Learning is a constructive process (Woo, Reeves, 2007) however, knowledge acquisition is a process that is both social and individual (Rutherford and Kerr, 2008).  Interactivity is defined by Bannan-Ritland (2002) as the active involvement of a learner in instructional activities and technologies that include social interactions and networks.  As described by Chou et al., (2010) three are types of interactivity that must be present in online personalized learning environments:

  • Interaction Type – which includes activity between learner and self, learner and interface, learner and content,  learner and instructor and learner and other learners;
  • Interactivity Dimension (element of interaction type)  – includes user ease of use to include inclusion of information, adaptability, information monitoring, user responsiveness, and interpersonal communication facilitation etc.;
  • Interactive Function – includes technical functionality related to interactivity dimensions (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).

The Web and by extension e-learning can support and improve effective learner-to-leaner interactions grounded on social constructivist theory.  The use of Web 2.0 technologies such as E-mail, listservs, and discussion boards allow learners to collaborate with each other.  Online instructors are able to provide necessary guidance through the various tools, which provide for both synchronous and asynchronous advice, coaching and feedback (Woo and Reeves, 2007).  Students need to be able to communicate in a manner that does not induce stress.  Students are often unaware of the “container” that is developed by the ID-10022019course facilitator.  It is the responsibility of the student to be a professional student (Palloff and Pratt, 2013). Educators acknowledge that individuality is a benefit in education and designers should consider individual differences of students, these could include their learning styles, learning orientations, learning rates, talents, cognitive styles, multiple intelligences, preferences, and needs (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).

According to Vygotsy’s theory, learning is the manner by which learners assimilate into knowledge communities therefore, it is the individual learner differences that propel and encourage learning in those communities (Woo, Reeves, 2007). When students engage learner to learner the interaction, assist the student in developing their online persona (Palloff and Pratt, 2013). By considering individual differences learners are more responsible for their learning, retain information longer, and simplifies application of knowledge thereby increasing interest in learning materials and increasing positive feelings towards the materials (Samah, Yahaya, and Ali, 2011).  Community of learning participants should challenge, professionally support, correct and provide feedback peer to peer, which creates a dynamic where learners and facilitators are peers (Palloff and Pratt, 2013).

Woman on ComputerTait (2000, as cited in Boyd, 2004) contends that the reason distance learners prefer the online format is because it makes them feel more confident and competent when participating in class discussions, the online environment promotes equality among learners for these students.  Thus successful online students demonstrate characteristics of taking initiative and being assertive by asking questions, creating groups, sending emails and contacting classmates if necessary (Boyd, 2004).  Tait (2000, as cited by Boyd, 2004) some online students prefer the virtual classroom because they feel both confident and traditional face-to-face classrooms where teachers and a few students dominate. In the online environment, such students feel they are on an equal footing with others. Benefits to communities of learning are student satisfaction, perception of learning and feeling a part of something larger (Palloff and Pratt, 2013).

As an instructional designer or instructor of distance learning it is important to ask yourself questions such as what pedagogy you ascribe to, how you will foster a sense of community online, are you comfortable working in an online environment, and are you willing to devote more time to an online class than a traditional face-to-face course (Buchanan, 2009). Creating communities of learning require that the facilitator be familiar with the technology, that they are active participants, set the tone, which will make the course easy to navigate and make the classroom warm and welcoming and less formal, and rigid (Palloff and Pratt, 2013).



Bannan-Ritland, B. (2002). Computer-mediated communication, eLearning, and interactivity: A review of the research. Quarterly Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 161-179.

Boyd, D. (2004). The characteristics of successful online students. New Horizons in Adult Education18(2), 31-39. Retrieved from

Buchanan, E. (2009). Assessment Measures: Pre-tests for successful distance teaching and learning? Journal of Distance Learning Administration Contents, 2(4). Retrieved from

Palloff, R. and Pratt K. Online Learning Communities retrieved from

Samah, N. A., Yahaya, N., & Ali, M. B. (2011). Individual differences in online personalized learning environment. Educational Research and Reviews, 6(7), 516-521.

Woo, Y. and Reeves, T. (2007) Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. The Internet and Higher Education, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2007, Pages 15-25, ISSN 1096-7516


2 thoughts on “Online Learning Communities

  1. Patricia Beamon says:

    Hello Sharifa,

    First of all let me say that your blog is an eye catcher with the pictures you have added. I actually added some pictures to make the reading more appealing as well. In a community of learning it is a great idea to have learners complete at least one activity during each phase in order to help them become familiar with their peers and to become oriented to the course (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). Conrad and Donaldson (2011) also state that an engaged learning educational approach for instructors involves modeling, reflecting, actively involving the student, and developing a community of fellow learners.

    When incorporating different technologies into a course the instructor must be sure the learners are familiar with the tools in order to complete assignments with success and with as little frustration as possible. In previous courses at Walden I was introduced to different software and technology tools that I felt I should have had some type of tutorial beforehand. Although I was successful in using those technology tools I feel I would have done a much better job on assignments had I known a little more about the technology I was required to use. The responsibility I had of being the professional student (Palloff and Pratt, n.d.) was certainly tested.

    In John Dewey’s experiential learning theory he believed that experiences are unique to each learner (Boettcher and Conrad, 2010). As an instructor it is imperative that my learners feel welcomed and comfortable within the learning community with their peers and the course work.

    Great Job!



    Boettcher, J. V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The Online Teaching Survival Guide. Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips. (pp. 23, 29, 30). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Conrad, R. & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner. Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction. (pp. 9, 11). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Online learning communities.

  2. marlarobles says:

    I appreciate your post. Truly as an educator it is important to determine what type of learning community we would like to foster before the course begins. In fact, some of the best online courses that I have taken began months after the initial planning phase and over a year after the course was designed. In my face-to-face classroom, I decide what type of environment I prefer and design activities that will promote this type of interaction. Then I reward these interactions. I believe that a virtual environment works very similarly. One must actively seek to build the type of relationships with students that you would like to see in the classroom. I had one professor who very actively engaged the learners throughout the course. His interactions changed over time to allow us to strive for higher levels of thinking and challenged our preconceived notions. I learned a lot from this environment. On the other hand, I have read a lot about learners who feel more comfortable interacting from a computer than in a classroom. I tend to disagree. I believe it has more to do with the environment and what happens when these students actively participate. Social constructivism has a place in both types of classrooms.


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