First Steps to Building an online learning community.

I will soon be embarking on a project as part of a graduate certificate in Flexible Education Delivery which involves building an online community for a specific program at CQU. (Luckily I’m doing this with some smart people who have a wealth of teaching experience). So in preparation for the first meeting tomorrow I’ve been doing some reading on how to maintain a healthy active  online learning community. First of all I found some interesting references to definitions of a community and how the definition has changed with the advances in technology that removed the obstacle of distance that hindered interpersonal communication.

Researchers now consider the strength and nature of relationships between individuals to be a more useful basis for defining community than physical proximity (Hamman, 1999; Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 1998; Wellman, 1997; Wellman & Gulia, 1999a)

An online community can be described as people who come together for a particular purpose, and who are guided by policies (including norms and rules) and supported by software” ((de Souza & Preece, 2004; Maloney-Krichmar & Preece, 2005; Preece, 2000).

I found this article by Caleb John Clark (1998) ,while quite old, to be somewhat useful to someone like me who has very little experience in education. To roughly summarize:

  • Online learning communities are grown, not built. Online learning communities should be grown, not built. Online communities are strongest when grown by members into unique and supportive, environments.

1. Communicate the purpose of the community
2. Specify the ritual and requirements of membership
3. Decide on the participation and personality of the leaders
4. Provide clear guidance for new members
5. Offer growth opportunities for established members.
6. Create a policy for handling disputes and disruptions
7. Cultivate cyclic rhythms for events and communications.

  • Online learning communities need leaders. Online learning communities need leaders. Leaders are needed to define the environment, keep it safe, give it purpose, identity and keep it growing.
  • Personal narrative is vital to online learning communities. Personal narrative is vital to online learning communities. Personal stories and experiences add closeness, and provide identity, thus strengthening online communities.

Another interesting aspect of online communities is the ‘lurker’. It can be expect that only 10-20% of the regular visitors to any online community will actively participate while the rest quietly watch and listen. According to Stacey Horn in her book Cyberville(1998) this is ok. So long as the leaders are encouraging participation in a comfortable environment let the lurkers lurk.


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