Designing Blended Learning Communities

Designing Blended Learning Communities

Liping Deng (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong) and Allan H.K. Yuen (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-380-7.ch014
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This chapter seeks to highlight the unique characteristics of blended learning communities and the special design consideration they call for. The blended nature of a community is reflected through the interplay of the online and offline dimensions of a community and the mix of various media in support of community-wide interaction. The authors introduce the notion of blended learning community based on related literature on learning community and blended learning and put forward design guidelines for building such communities. Further, a pilot study was conducted to test out the proposed design principles in the context of pre-service teacher education with blogs as the main vehicle for online communication. The authors’ work can contribute to a deepened understanding of learning communities situated in the blended media environment and provide a set of design principles for their development.
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Theoretical Background

Learning Community

Rooted in social learning theories, learning community has become an increasingly popular notion in schools at all levels. It has been widely documented that learning communities have positive influence upon students’ academic performance and school experiences (e.g. Zhao & Kuh, 2004). To begin with, one essential question that needs to be addressed is what constitutes a learning community? Deng and Yuen (2007) mapped out the structure of an online community and put interaction at the heart of community-based activities. Unlike casual and random online communications, interaction within a community is constant and continual (Conrad, 2005) with multiple members involved in two-way communications (Jones, 1997). On account that learning is social as well as intellectual (Dede, 1996), social interaction alone is not sufficient to ensure purposeful reflection and critical discourse vital for active learning (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). Thus, at the heart of a learning community is an interactive process that engages students in social interaction and critical discourse.

A meaningful learning experience in a community context has two implications: “the first is to construct meaning from a personal perspective. The second is to refine and confirm this understanding collaboratively within a community of learners” (Garrison & Anderson, 2003, p. 13). As such, “the right balance and blend of collaborative and individual learning activities is the key ingredient” (Garrison & Anderson, 2003, p. 24) in a learning community. Therefore, the construction of a learning community calls for two sets of balance: 1) balance between individual and collaborative learning; and 2) balance between social interaction and critical discourse.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Learning Community: A group of people engaged in active and collaborative learning activities.

Sociability: Person-to-personal interaction within a community that is crucial for community-building.

Community Design: Efforts or intervention made to cultivate social relationship or sense of belonging within a community.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): The communication mediated by computers. Generally speaking, there are two types of CMC: synchronous and asynchronous.

Blended Learning: The combination of face-to-face and computer-mediated communication tools or the mixture of various media in support of learning.

Blended Community: A community that is supported by both online and offline modes of communication.

Blended Learning Community: A community which utilizes various media – online or offline, synchronous or asynchronous – to support learning as individual and social act.

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