Facilitating Connected Knowing Through Virtual Learning Communities

Facilitating Connected Knowing Through Virtual Learning Communities

Holly McCracken (The University of Illinois at Springfield, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch141
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Abstract

Generally believed critical to facilitating multi-dimensional instructional experiences for participants in a range of educational environments (for example, as accessed through academic institutions, corporate staff development, professional organizations, and so forth), the use of learning communities as an important instructional method is widely recognized across academic disciplines, teaching approaches, and delivery media. In fact, Lave and Wenger (in McPherson & Nunes, 2004) argued that learning is, by nature, an activity by which one engages knowledge in many forms, through which one becomes a “member of the community of knowledge” (p. 305). As such, communication, collaboration, and interaction become essential methods in facilitating instructional partnerships. Extending beyond a social context, the ongoing relationship building, advising, and mentoring generated through participation in learning communities provide a foundation for continued cognitive development and knowledge construction (Rovai, 2002; Wegerif, 1998).
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Introduction

Generally believed critical to facilitating multi-dimensional instructional experiences for participants in a range of educational environments (for example, as accessed through academic institutions, corporate staff development, professional organizations, and so forth), the use of learning communities as an important instructional method is widely recognized across academic disciplines, teaching approaches, and delivery media. In fact, Lave and Wenger (in McPherson & Nunes, 2004) argued that learning is, by nature, an activity by which one engages knowledge in many forms, through which one becomes a “member of the community of knowledge” (p. 305). As such, communication, collaboration, and interaction become essential methods in facilitating instructional partnerships. Extending beyond a social context, the ongoing relationship building, advising, and mentoring generated through participation in learning communities provide a foundation for continued cognitive development and knowledge construction (Rovai, 2002; Wegerif, 1998). Such environments facilitate both ongoing discovery and a personal relationship to learning; enable interpersonal connections; emphasize the application of previous experiences to current learning goals; and, promote democratic teaching-learning partnerships, allowing participants to develop both collective and individualized perspectives and approaches (Brookfield, 1987, 1995; Daloz, in Taylor, Spring, 1995; Palloff & Pratt, 1999; Taylor, 1995). Although Burbules (cited in Chamberlain, Charalambos, & Michalinos, 2004, pp. 136 – 137) stressed the importance of community development to learning as equally valuable regardless of the instructional medium, both wide-scale anecdotal feedback and more formal research indicated that this aspect of learning was particularly essential to student satisfaction, motivation, and retention in Web-based classrooms in which students may never physically come into contact with peers, instructors or campus/organizational services and programs (Boettcher, 2004; Collison, Elbaum, Haavind, & Tinker, 2000; Kearsley, 2000; McCracken, 2005; Palloff and Pratt, 1999, 2001; Tinto cited in Rovai, 2002; Rovai, November, 2004; Shea, 2006). Communities that develop in online instructional environments can be similarly transformative in their significance to research generation, self-assessment, and critical thought development, as well as important to furthering advising/consulting relationships, social networks, and professional affiliations.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transactional Distance: Refers to the extent to which time and distance impact communications and interactions in a virtual learning environment. Michael G. Moore (1993) is credited with the identification of this impact and subsequent theory.

Scaffolding: Refers to a progressive process of building on sequential or successive ideas to achieve an original outcome.

Collaborative Learning and Teaching: includes a process of creating a teaching and learning environment that focuses on the establishment of partnerships with which to approach learning tasks and achieve common goals. Key characteristics of collaborative learning and teaching include interactivity, interdependency, and shared learning goals.

Knowledge Construction: refers to the act or process of contributing to the development of body of ideas, attitudes, and/or beliefs.

Virtual (Online) Learning: communities include an intentionally developed network of individuals who share similar experiences, goals, and interests and who congregate for purpose of learning. The primary mode of communication and interaction is electronic; the community may elect to use synchronous or asynchronous technologies to facilitate on going learning.

Instructional Scaffolding: refers to a developmental process of constructing sequential instruction components to achieve an original outcome.

Autonomous Learning: refers to the student engaging in the learning environment independent of instructor guidance/supervision and peer interaction/communication. She/he takes primary responsibility for her/his learning needs and goals, as well as for self-assessment of work completed.

Communities of Practice: include learning communities constructed for the express purpose of creating new knowledge, skills, and/or abilities, and focused on academic, professional, and/or applied specializations.

Experiential Learning: refers to knowledge generated from and situated in experience. For an experience to facilitate learning, the student must be able to identify and analyze specific goals, needs, and outcomes.

Student Centered Education: refers to a philosophy to education and administration that focuses upon the student as its priority; all policy making, instructional, and support activities are developed and delivered with an emphasis on student preferences, learning styles, and resources.

Self Directedness: focuses upon the process of engaging in “self taught” learning experiences. Key characteristics of self directedness include motivation, self-responsibility, ability to self assess, ability to transfer knowledge/skills, and comfort with autonomy.

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