An online learning community can be an amazing tool that can connect teachers and students from all walks of life in all areas of the world. However, simply creating an online community with the great, vast area that is the internet is not enough to have people endlessly joining and using it properly.
A good online learning community has members with a common goal, whether it be social interaction or education, as well as (and this is key) active participation. Palloff and Pratt make an excellent point in their book, Building Online Learning Communities (2007) that “An online learning community cannot be created by one person…participants have a responsibility to make community happen.” (Paloff and Pratt 2007).
Take the infamous Facebook for example. While Mark Zuckerberg did indeed create the original Facebook, it took thousands and later, millions of people actively participating in the concept to create the community that we know as Facebook today.
An online class or community needs to have a desired outcome and common goal in order to be successful, and using a class format to create a learning community can force together people who otherwise wouldn’t have interacted, and allow them to interact. Often, class instructors will require interaction through a discussion board, and this will foster discussion.
Prammanee (2003) makes an interesting correlation between the interaction between learners and teachers: “Interaction is one of the most important elements of online instruction because it is helpful for learners in getting feedback from the instructor about their performance in course-related activities and also for encouraging learners to engage in active learning” (Prammanee 2003). There are various types of interaction, ranging from learner-learner to learner-instructor, and the interactions occur when the two parties influence each other. (Prammanee 2003)
So, in short, an online learning community cannot be a true community without real and authentic interaction among its participants and facilitator. Without said active participation, a community would be just a bunch of people who happened to read the same thing online.
Pallof, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities. (2 ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey–Bass.
Prammanee, N. (2003, March). Understanding participation in online courses:. Retrieved from http://itforum.coe.uga.edu/paper68/paper68.html