Making Sense of Building Online Learning Communities

Making Sense of Building Online Learning Communities

Justina Kwapy (Kaplan University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5472-1.ch044
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The last decade has brought an increase in online courses in the educational setting. Online enrollment has increased from 1.98 million in 2003 to 2.35 million in 2004 (Allen & Seaman, 2005). While students, higher universities, and faculty are enjoying the convenience and flexibility of online learning environments, there is an increasing concern over the support in distance education, teaching methods, and a social disconnectedness of students from the course. This chapter explores how these factors can impede a successful online learning experience and can cause dissatisfaction and higher dropout rates among students in distance learning programs. Carr (2000) found higher dropout rates for distance education (10-20%) over traditional programs. Higher institution's online faculty are now faced with the task of creating a virtual community of learners, meeting both academic and social needs of students.
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Social Presence

Research demonstrates that a social presence is essential in promoting student success in the online classroom (Swan & Shih, 2005). Swan & Shih suggest that social presence exists through the sharing of learners’ experiences, collaboration and meaningful connections that result in an increased and effective learning experience.

The asynchronous platform that exists in the online learning environment can serve as a challenge for instructors in meeting the social needs of learners. Strategies that employ existing technology can contribute to the lack of face-to-face interactions of a traditional school. Instructors must utilize teaching methods that create a social presence in the online learning environment, and promote collaboration among the entire learning community.

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