Online Learning Communities

Online Learning Communities

Learning Communities No Title Xsm


This week I am sharing my thoughts regarding Online Learning Communities which is one of the topics included in EIDT
6510 – Online Instructional Strategies
, a graduate course at Walden
University. To prepare for this assignment, I viewed the video program “Online Learning Communities” with Dr. Rena Palloff and Dr. Keith Pratt (Laureate Education, n.d.).

What is a learning community? Palloff and Pratt define it as a “community of students and faculty who explore content together to construct meaning and knowledge about that content” (Laureate Education, n.d.). Learning communities occurring in the web environment, such as within a course management system (CMS) are known as “online” learning communities (Chang, 2003; Jonassen, 1993, 1996; Lock, 2002; Palloff & Pratt, 1999; as cited in Lee, Carter-Wells, Glaeser, Ivers, & Street, 2006). Rovai’s definition of an online learning community is more descriptive; “mutual interdependence among members, a sense of belonging, connectedness, spirit, trust, interactivity, common expectations, shared values and goals, and overlapping histories among members” (2002, p. 2; as cited in Lee et al., 2006, p. 14). This final definition describes online learning communities in higher education; “groups of learners and instructors, supported by instructional and learning resources, pursuing common knowledge-interests in an online environment” (Morrison & Shrivastave, 2001, p. 3; as cited in Lee et al., 2006, p. 14).

For clarification, online learning communities are also referred to as “communities of practice” (Brown & Issacs, 1995; Johnson, 2001; Rogers, 2000; Wenger, 1998; as cited in Lee et al., 2006, p. p. 14) and “virtual communities” (Brook & Boal, 1995; Lockhard, 1996; Rheingold, 1993; Schuler, 1996; as cited in Lee et al., 2006, p. 14). I will use the term online learning community or its plural version from this point forward.

How do online learning communities significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses?  According to Palloff and Pratt (Laureate Education, n.d.), student satisfaction and their perception of learning both increase with participation in online learning communities. In addition, students indicate feeling like they are part of something bigger, while also experiencing a social pressure to succeed (Laureate Education, n.d.). Online learning communities significantly impact student learning and their satisfaction within online courses by allowing students to “get to know one another; introducing them to the course management system; and orienting them to the philosophy of online learning” (Laureate Education, n.d.)

What are the essential elements of online community building? The essential elements for building a learning community include people, purpose, and process (Laureate Education, n.d.). When people have a reason for belonging to an online learning community, they have purpose; the way in which the course is delivered provides the process. Method refers to the manner in which students interact and connect with one another, while social presence is the degree of awareness one person has for other members of the online learning community even when they cannot see one another (Laureate Education, n.d.).

How can online learning communities be sustained? Online learning communities are sustained through the engagement of its members. In other words, learners need to be engaged and participate often. As shared by Dr. Palloff in the video program, “The power of learning communities is learner-to-learner engagement” (Laureate Education, n.d.). In a “constructivist paradigm”, learners provide the major direction for acquiring knowledge through their interactions and collaborations with one another (Lee et al., 2006, p. 20).

Instructors functioning as facilitators also play a role in sustaining online learning communities. They must be engaged and participate often. Dr. Pratt recommends facilitators access the online learning community at least once daily for the first two weeks to offer support and guidance to new students, especially those who are adult learners (Laureate Education, n.d.).

What is the relationship between community building and effective online instruction? According to Lave and Wenger (1991; as cited in Lee et al., 2006, p. 20), online learning communities are known for promoting learning curriculums rather than teaching curriculums. Learning curriculums provide learners with a flexible “field of resources” which they use while participating in the online learning communities. Teaching curriculums do the opposite; structuring the resources and controlling learners’ access to them. (1991; as cited in Lee et al., 2006, p. 20). While the sample size in a case study analysis was small with only 18 participants, and should be further investigated to verify validity; its findings revealed 87% of respondents indicated when they “received positive feedback on their progress as learners, their sense of community improved” (Lee et al., 2006, p. 21).

What did I learn? By completing this assignment, I learned about the important role online learning communities have in promoting effective online instruction. It is not simply a matter of reading a text book and answering questions. Learners need to be engaged in the learning process which is best done through involvement in their online learning communities.


Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.).  Online Learning Communities [Video]. With Dr. Rena Palloff and Dr. Keith Pratt.

Lee, J., Carter-Wells, J., Glaeser, B., Ivers, K., & Street, C. (2006). Facilitating the development of a learning community in an online graduate program. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7(1), 13-33. Retrieved from


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