The Importance of Focal Awareness to Learning in Virtual Communities

The Importance of Focal Awareness to Learning in Virtual Communities

Peter D. Gibbings, Lyn M. Brodie
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0312-7.ch011
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Higher education today calls for transformative rather than transmissive education, and educators need to be particularly concerned with facilitating learners to fully focus on important elements, to make connections and properly process newly learned information. Educational approaches are beginning to place a greater emphasis on participation in community activities such as collaborative learning and team-work as opposed to individual inquiry. With the rise of the global community facilitated by the Internet and advances in communication technology, connected learners are forming virtual learning communities, which facilitate the individual and social aspect of learning through communication and team-based instruction models such as problem-based learning. To achieve this requires an education structure underpinned by pedagogical values that encourage student ownership of their learning and allows exploration of multiple perspectives by social interaction. One such educational structure may involve the use of virtual learning communities. The success of such a virtual learning community depends on developing key behaviours in students, which support them to focus on awareness of their own learning needs, attitudes and processes. This chapter argues therefore that students’ focal awareness is critical to learning in virtual communities.
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Problem Statement

Whist learning communities have been well documented in general, there has often been some doubts raised about learning in online or virtual communities. Whilst people in close physical proximity may find it easy to learn from one another, it is reported to be much more difficult to establish learning communities in an online environment. Consequently, some discussions have appeared in the literature investigating possible impediments to the transfer of the traditional face-to-face learning communities to the development of virtual learning communities.

Although it may be more difficult, due to geographic, time and resource restraints, it is important that we gain more knowledge on how to develop and maintain effective learning communities in the virtual space. The key may be to look at the issue from the students’ perspective, particularly as it relates to the theory of long term memory processes and focal awareness. In the context of this chapter, focal awareness refers to phenomena to which students’ consciously direct their attention.

In this chapter we demonstrate the importance of student focal awareness through investigating a case study Problem-Based Learning (PBL) course that utilises virtual learning communities to facilitate students’ attainment of course objectives.

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