Virtual Learning Communities in Organizations and Institutions of Higher Learning: Implications for Technology, Learning Practice, and Organizational Culture

Virtual Learning Communities in Organizations and Institutions of Higher Learning: Implications for Technology, Learning Practice, and Organizational Culture

Ramona T. Sharpe (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), David Bush (Villanova University, USA), Lawrence Cozzens (Villanova University, USA) and Megan Bosler (Villanova University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9577-1.ch037
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Organizational learning theory, adult learning theory, and basic human performance work in community psychology and anthropology inform this chapter which examines Virtual Learning Communities (VLC) in different types of organizations. Specifically, examples of VLC use in a corporate setting and an institute of higher learning are examined. The chapter reviews key components necessary for success when using VLC, as well as VLC effectiveness versus their limitations. Learnings obtained from experience with and research on VLCs are also discussed. The chapter ends by exploring the major implications for practitioners in adult learning, human resource development, and related disciplines.
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Different types of learning communities exist in numerous socio-cultural organizations (Barab, Kling, & Gray, 2004; Langer, 2011). This chapter examines examples of these learning communities, including those first developed in the classroom as a reconceptualization of educational practice (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999).

Principles for the design of effective learning communities include those derived from discrete classroom learning cases. Some of these principles appear to be generalizable from the classroom to the virtual learning experience. One such example includes fourteen principles developed by Bielaczy and Collins (1999). Most recently, interest has grown in the development of learning in virtual communities. As we excavate questions of parallels and distinctions between face to face settings and virtual encounters, we are led to the learning content appearing everywhere in the second decade of the twenty first century.

Some theoretical contributions to the VLC developments stem from the efforts of McMillan and Chavis (McMillan, 1976; McMillan & Chavis, 1986; McMillan, 1996).

Their work on a definition and theory of a sense of community was based on four elements. They define sense of community as a feeling that members of a group have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith the members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together. There are four elements that are a part of sense of community. First, people experience feelings of membership or belonging to their community. Second, influence or a sense of mattering implies that people feel they can make a difference in their community. Third, needs fulfillment suggests that members of a community believe that the resources available in their community will meet their needs. Finally, emotional connection is the belief that community members have and will share history, time, places and experience. The latter was based on the foundational belief that members had shared experiences, such as a homeland.

McMillan and associates (1986) also discussed psychological measures of a sense of community. Such scales as the 40-item Sense of Community Scale (Doolittle & MacDonald, 1978) and Glynn’s (1981) measure of the sense of community have provided a set of metrics for the sense of community.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Communities of Practice (CoP): Groups of people engaged in collective learning that share a common domain, community and practice

Self-Directed Learning: Adult learning theory based in individual freedom.

Social Presence: Virtual event meant to create feelings of connectedness to a group.

Cyber University: Entity providing formal learning opportunities through electronic media. Cyber Universities use online learning to provide access to all, regardless of limitations due to geographic location, flexibility, etc.

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