Understanding Group Interaction and Knowledge Building in Virtual Learning Environments

Understanding Group Interaction and Knowledge Building in Virtual Learning Environments

Hwee Ling Lim (Petroleum Institute, UAE)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-739-3.ch025
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With the rapid adoption of online learning and training, educators have drawn different conclusions regarding the viability of e-learning in supporting interactions that result in quality learning experiences and outcomes. This chapter describes several main online educational interaction models, highlights the Community of Inquiry model for contextualizing interaction from a sociocultural constructivist perspective and explains the characteristics of virtual learning communities. This chapter advances current understandings on online group learning processes with findings from a case study on distant students’ experiences during virtual synchronous tutorials. Quantitative and qualitative survey results are presented on student satisfaction with the development of their skills in computer-mediated communication, increased understanding of course content, and enhancement of their overall e-learning experience through collaborative group discussions. Finally, the implications of the findings for designing distance courses and virtual group learning activities are discussed, and recommendations offered to enhance student experiences of online group learning.
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With improved web and CMC technologies, instructional settings now encompass conventional brick-and-mortar classrooms and virtual learning environments. Such a move presents benefits and challenges to educators since the range of educational interactions has been extended yet limited by technological capabilities and constraints. This section describes the types of interactions afforded by CMC technologies, contextualizes online educational interactions within a virtual learning community model, describes the characteristics of online learning communities, and highlights the main factors that affect student satisfaction with e-learning experiences.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Learning: The use of information and communication technologies to access resources and interact with other parties/entities to acquire knowledge.

Exchange: The smallest unit of meaningful dialogue that comprises at least an Initiate and a Respond turn by at least two participants such as Question and Answer.

Online Synchronous (Chat) Tutorial: An instructional chat session that occurs in real-time on the intranet or Internet.

Case Study: A process of examining phenomena in natural settings, using multiple data collection methods to gather data from one or a few entities.

Chat Room: A data communication channel that links computers; enabling users to send messages to others in real time.

Online Interaction: A computer-mediated dialogue/event between two or more participants that occurs asynchronously and/or synchronously.

Networked Learning: The use of information and communication technologies to connect members of learning communities and resources.

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