learning community is a group of people who share common academic goals and attitudes. In the online world, communities are often formed through forums. These group of people use forums to communicate updates, queries and in general provide encouragement, help and motivation to each other in achieving their goals.

According to McMillian and Chavis, community psychologists in 1986, there are factors that define a sense of community. In this article we are going to delve deep into what a community is, what makes a good community and the advantages and disadvantages of learning communities.

What Comprises a Community Includes:

Membership

Describes the sense of belonging of every learning community participant. This must be present in order to build bonds between each member. This will encourage them to stay connected with the others as well as keep their loyalty in helping one another. Without feeling like they belong to the group, participation will not be as active (or may be nothing at all).

Influence

Every member of the learning community should not only be reactive to what they perceive but also be active. This means that they are not only present when there is something to argue about or answer to, but that they must also be willing to contribute their ideas (especially when it’s effective) for the benefit of the whole group.

Fulfillment of Individual Needs

People are involved in a learning community not only for the sake of absorbing information but also to carry out questions. They should be able to ask questions and raise an opinion. In this way, they not only give but also get what they actually need.

Shared Events and Emotional Connections

A learning community must also be able to share their experiences with one another, whether it is good or bad. This helps others see what the possible outcome may be when they take an action that’s been taken by another. Sharing experiences can create connections and build trust, which then creates a strong sense of community among the members.

However, a learning community becomes effective when held together by the right factors.

The 4 Main Pillars of an Online Community:

A Fundamental Goal – what is the purpose of the community.

Identity – a person’s identity is found through belonging to the community as a member.

Discussion & Supportive Participation – the way by which members’ are able to discuss matters in a mindful, supportive and encouraging way.

Shared Values – the general perspective that members of the learning community share. Having this shared values unites them and enables them to promote an evolving discourse.

Outcomes That Indicate a Thriving Online Community

By Palloff and Patt 1999

  • Active Interaction – involves course content and personal communication
  • Collaborative Learning – when comments are exchanged between students
  • Socially constructed meaning – when questions and agreements are being raised on matters
  • Sharing of resources – the community is effective when there is sharing between students
  • Support and Encouragement – students supporting each other and critically evaluates each other’s work for the sake of improvement

The Benefits of a Learning Community

Improved Retention Rates

Learning communities has proven to increase retention rates among students. Students who join learning communities feel far more compelled to learn and to continue learning, no matter how hard it gets because they don’t feel like they’re going through the process alone. A community acts as a support group, they’re there to guide you along the way and make the process less lonely. What’s more, they also provide an effective and safe way to ask for help, and the more they help each other, the more they feel empowered to do better in their learning. The repetition of information through discussion also helps a lot of students retain what they’ve learnt. The more discussion is made between co-learners, the more likely they are to remember their learning and to keep learning.

Integrative

In the academic world, co-learners are seen as competitors. But in a learning community, these people are seen in a way as allies. A learning community unites people together because of its goal – to help each other in their journey. If one wants and needs help, others do so willingly.

High-Quality Learning

Learning communities are considered to enhance the learning experience. On top of it improving retention rates and reinforcing information, high-quality learning comes from the limitless opportunities to learn. The members don’t only learn from their study materials but also from each other’s experiences. Through the sharing of ideas and problems with one another, it unlocks a lot more potential opportunities to learn things that weren’t covered in the course material. Others will also have fewer chances of committing the same mistakes, saving their time and effort, making them less likely to get disheartened and quit.

Collaborative Knowledge

Each member collaborates with one another. Whatever has been tested and proven to work is shared in the community for others to be able to have that same success. The same is true with making mistakes.

Relevant Skills & Knowledge

A learning community opens the doors to relevant skills and knowledge in a complex and diverse world that we have now.

Knowledge-based

It aims to enrich members or learners with as much knowledge as they can get.

Practice-based

Application, or taking action, is very important in a learning community. Members discuss not only for the sake of information but most of all for the sake of exercising that learning.

Disadvantages of a Learning Community

With all the benefits mentioned above you may ask does a learning community have disadvantages too? The short answer to that question is yes. Does this in effect lessens the importance of an online community? Absolutely not. However, it is important to discuss the potential disadvantages of learning communities in order to combat ways to overcome such potential issues.

The biggest hesitation for educators about learning communities is the tendency of members losing their individual responsibility. This is very common especially among adult learners nowadays, who are perhaps too busy or tired to put the effort in and want everything to come easy for them. In such cases, learners may try and take advantages on others by absorbing everything that they share and not making the effort to figure out things for themselves. When a member is too lazy to make efforts of participating, other members will also become hesitant in sharing their ideas. This can manifest into feelings of hostility and mistrust amongst users, dissipating healthy discussion and encouragement.

Thus in order to combat such a potential issue, we must look back at the factor of identity within a learning community. It is important to distinguish both a personal and group identity. Personal identity is how the individual identifies themselves as a person in relation to their group, what strengths and value do they bring? What individual spirit and character do they bring? Whereas a group identity is how a group of people identify themselves collectively including their shared values, goals and principles. To have a healthy learning community you must have a balance of the two. Hence, some online courses provide members with individual milestones, through badges, content mapping or unlocked content when they reach a certain goal, thus establishing and recognising an individual’s achievement in detachment from the overall group’s achievement.

How to Create an Effective Learning Community

Define the Purpose

It always starts with the basic. Think about the goal and make it a real one. Define the purpose of the learning community, what it is for, to whom it is for and everything else that comes with it. It helps set the focus and drive for every member or person who would want to join in.

Set a Location

Every learning community should have a location whether it’s offline or online. It should be the meeting place for these learners or members every time they want to participate. It enables them to feel at ease with sharing their opinions knowing that the people in that location will also do the same.

Define the Rules

Rules set everybody’s discipline. Although there are tendencies for violations, rules are still very helpful in regulating the interaction between members. Where there are rules there is peace and order. Where there is cooperation between members, there is progress. Rules enable every member to know their limits and stay within those boundaries. It makes them see if they are on the right track and if they are doing what they are supposed and are expected to do.

Christine Katherman

Christine Katherman

Freelancer

Christine has been working in the field of freelance for just over 7 years, specializing in copy-writing, social media and voice-overs.

Describing herself as a "social media bee 24/7", Christine has an undying passion for photography and music.

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