How to Build Effective Online Learning Communities

Collaboration is a key element of effective learning. Joining an online learning community can foster new opportunities for solidifying what we learn through social interaction. This interaction can help reinforce lessons, help students to gain different perspectives for better problem solving, and nurture idea generation. In order to make your learning experience more fulfilling and engaging, here are some tips to help you build effective online learning communities...

Why Go Virtual?

Building an online learning community enables students to work with others who are attempting to master the same subject matter. This allows for a more convenient yet enriching experience for all involved and can also expand your learning community globally.

Secondly, working with others online can help build a student’s "online literacy" and communication skills. These skills are absolutely necessary especially for those that are just about to enter the workforce. Virtual collaboration is one of the most important skills to master in today’s economy. 

Choosing the Right Platform

Top 5 Community Learning Platforms

  • Moodle: Moodle is an open source community builder which allows administrators to effectively create a unique, private learning collaboration platform. Moodle is free and its platform templates are completely customisable. Standard features include task calendar, collaborative tools like subject glossaries, discussion forums, indexes, and personalised dashboards for each user. Notifications can be set up for upcoming assignment due dates, exam reminders, and event reminders.
  • Articulate: Articulate is for individuals who would like to set up a learning platform but don’t know where to start. It offers step by step instructions on how to start your group course. The community is continuously building due to the program’s popularity. This enables users to reach out across the globe to students studying the same or similar material. One key benefit of Articulate is that the platform easily allows audio and visual integration.
  • Sharepoint Community Portal: Sharepoint is considered relatively easy to use and can be customized according to the user’s specifications. Many template styles are available for community portals which allows for quicker set up. Sharepoint is most commonly used for enterprise management but it can also be attractive as a community learning platform. 
  • SayWire: SayWire offers learners the opportunity to work closely in individual groups and group based projects. The dashboard includes activity wires (similar to RSS feeds), an event or task calendar, and security enabled eNotes. In the Course Builder you can access discussion boards, work together on assignments, upload files, and tweak templates.
  • Blackboard: Blackboard is more than just a learning platform; it can also help connect learners with others who are practising the same lessons across the globe. The platform also allows users to set up the platform hierarchy so that administrators have exclusive access to certain platform tools. The social learning tools available on Blackboard allows users to create unique user profiles, allow in network and out of network communication through secure in platform email, and two separate collaboration "spaces" for both informal and formal learning.

Using Discussion Boards to Your Advantage

Online collaboration requires a certain amount of flexibility. Implementing discussion boards which contain text, audio, and video can help others get a grasp on new subjects and help reinforce learning. Multifaceted discussion boards are ideal because they offer students complete control of when and how they access and interact with information. 

Create an Atmosphere Contusive to Different Learning Styles

The basis for your online learning community should be built upon a strong foundation of learning etiquette and guidelines. These guidelines should be clearly displayed and easy to access. It should be noted that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated by the moderator. 

Everyone has a unique way of learning. Make sure that the items and add-ons present in your platform design allow for versatile learning. For example, encourage discussion and sharing by posting regularly and post using audio, pictures, video, and text. Be thought provoking with your posts and offer multiple points of post interaction such as links to interesting facts and figures related to your current lessons.

Face to Face

When possible, encourage those in your community to meet face to face. Appoint team leaders for different regional areas to help facilitate face to face meetings and social interaction once every few months or at the beginning or end of current lesson studies. Also, encourage group leaders to begin discussions regarding current events in their area which are closely related or pertinent to current studies.

The benefits of online learning are numerous, but in order to succeed you must be proactive and self disciplined. Forming a successful online learning community can aid you in your quest to truly provide you and those in your community with a more deep understanding of lesson subject matter.


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