A Spanish teacher finds her way through an educational technology master's degree

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In their book, Building Online Learning Communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom, Palloff and Pratt emphasize that one of the challenges of developing an online course, whether it be for student learning or professional development, is to “actively engage the online learning process” a key make it so that “the content of the course should be embedded in everyday life.” (Paloff and Pratt 2007)

It’s a challenge that teachers face on a regular basis in any setting, but creating an online atmosphere that is authentic, applicable, and engaging has its own set of challenges. In his online article, Promoting Online Interaction in Today’s Colleges and Universities, Muirhead brings up a point that, to some, may be obvious. “A major advantage to [computer-mediated learning] is that students appreciate and enjoy the learning process to a greater degree when they have the opportunity to freely share with their instructor and colleagues.” (Muirhead, 2002)

How does this relate to making a course applicable to embedding a course in everyday life? Real-world interaction, whether it be between real-life colleagues at work, or online classmates, is a key aspect to a successful collegial relationship. Hypothetical and theoretical interaction can be effective, but applying those theories to everyday life and work will make them much more effective (Muirhead, 2002).

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K.  (2007). Building Online Learning Communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom, (2nd ed.). San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.ISBN: 978-0-7879-8825-8, pages 157-204.

Muirhead, B. (2002, July). Usdla journal. Retrieved from http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/JUL02_Issue/article04.html

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