Understanding the Learning Community and Online Discourse


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Pin.gifE-Lecture, Unit 1: The Learning Community, Discourse, and the Instructor's Role


According to Bielaczyc and Collins, “The goal of a learning community is to further collective knowledge thereby supporting the development of individual knowledge” (Bielaczc and Collins, 1999) Media:Bielaczyc1999.pdf. In a learning community there is a culture of learning that supports a collaborative effort toward the goal of knowledge transformation and advancement. Central to the learning community is the social construction of knowledge, achieved via the discourse that takes place within the community.

Palloff and Pratt (2001) write about the learning community and the online environment in their Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom [1], presenting that the “online environment is conducive to an interactive, collaborative, facilitative approach wherein the instructor acts as a guide to the process rather than its director. By paying attention to the development of a learning community, the instructor creates the vehicle through which learning happens. Through the development of a learning community, students learn that their greatest and most profound learning comes through reflection and interaction with one another” (Palloff and Pratt, 2001). Similarly, the major theme of Lev Vygotsky's theoretical framework is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. On discourse, Vygotsky suggests “it is productive and generative conversations that hold the key to collective knowledge building” (Vygotsky, 1962; 1978). You can read more about Vygotsky theories here: [2].

Consistent with the community of learning model, Brazilian educationalist Paulo Friere suggests “learning is likely to be most effective when students are actively involved in the dialogic co-construction of meaning about topics that are of significance to them.” Read more about Friere here: [3]. Finally, Hiltz (1998) [4] speaks directly to community and online learning, stating “the most basic premise from which all online teaching should begin is that the goal is to build a learning community and to facilitate the exchange of ideas, information, and feelings among the members of the community.”

Bielaczyc, K., & Collins, A. (1999) propose that discourse "functions in a learning community as a medium for conveying knowledge to students and asking students questions to test their knowledge." The learning community, through discourse, formulates and exchanges ideas.

The instructor’s role in facilitating effective online discourse cannot be understated. Hiltz (1998) [5] recommends that the “the instructor “mold, model and encourage the desired behavior, and the students must be able and willing to participate regularly. In the learning community approach, teacher takes on the roles of organizing and facilitating student-directed activities, whereas in most classrooms, the teacher tends to direct the activities. The power relationships shift as the students become responsible for their own learning and the learning—the focus is transferred from teacher-centered to learner-centered, however, the instructor is actively instrumental in this learning community. The teacher takes on the role of facilitator, moderator, questioner, prodder, clarifier, leader, follower, and participant.

Pin.gifQuestions for thought:

Can you identify learning community in your existing courses? How can you adapt face-to-face learning communities to the online environment? How will your role as instructor change?

Pin.gifWhat’s next?

In the next unit, we will cover design principles, strategies, and best practices to consider in the development of your discussion activities. We will also look at the computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies [6] used in the online learning environment (OLE).

Arr.GIFReturn to Unit 1: The Learning Community and Online Discourse to finish the activities for this unit.

NOTE: You will find citations for this e-lecture on the References and Resources page.

Arr.GIF Return to Unit 1: The Learning Community and Online Discourse

Arr.GIF Facilitating Effective Online Discourse Home Page