Creating a Powerful Fully Online Learning Community

Creating a Powerful Fully Online Learning Community


Being in communities online is something that many of us do in our daily lives. Whether it is: a group that connects local residents to community market, a group that supports new parents on their journey into Parenthood, or a group that connects craft food enthusiasts to their local providers, online communities are places that we connect with others around something we have in common. In higher education, the concept of online communities for learning is increasingly being explored as more institutions move to offer online courses or programs. The field and practice of Distance Education has a rich and storied history of fostering connections with learners at a distance whether it is through mail, phone, television, radio, and more recently online delivery; however, for many it is difficult to imagine being part of an online learning community in their formal post-secondary education experience. The fully online learning community model — or FOLC — is used to conceptualize, design, and research collaborative online learning in higher education. The aim of the model is to inform the design of digital learning environments and communities. In a world that continues to equate learning with memorization and testing, the FOLC model takes the position the deep and meaningful learning occurs at the intersection of two spheres that are immersed within a digital space. These two spheres are the social sphere (involving social presence) and the cognitive sphere (involving cognitive presence). Social presence is defined as the co-creation of a collegial environment that invites and supports learners in sharing their ideas freely and without fear. In this model, all members of the class (students, instructors, teaching assistants) are considered learners, each possessing varied (and valid) experiences perceptions and responsibilities. The result is a form of collaborative learning in which all parties work jointly towards solutions, and decisions are reached through social negotiation. This approach allows for differing, and possibly conflicting views, to be used in the development of new, complex, and previously unimaginable solutions and understandings. Learners in the FOLC-based environments are encouraged to adopt the position of a critical friend with their colleagues and actively seek out constructive feedback to improve the quality of their thinking. The FOLC-based learning communities that are created happen within digital spaces and places both in real-time and asynchronously. In FOLC environments, problem-identification, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and negotiation are among some of the skills and abilities required as learners interact with each other to solve real-world problems. In addition, the FOLC models focus on inquiry based activities, centralized control, and community orientation fosters the development of transformative and emancipatory learning as conceptualized by Human Rights Education and Social Justice Education. It does so by creating an environment that promotes a sense of intellectual and social safety, openness, and trust. This environment encourages the sharing of emotions as preparation for critical reflection and facilitates the exploration of divergent perspectives. Additionally, it promotes each community member’s sense of autonomy, engagement, and collaboration through processes involving constructive feedback, self-assessment, and self dialogue. Thanks for tuning in. If you like this video, please share it with your friends, colleagues, and students!

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