Tips on developing an online learning environment

3 minute read

May 13, 2016

Tips on developing an online learning environment

Learning is no longer all about what happens in the classroom environment; instead, it’s what happens outside the classroom.

It’s important to note that a collaborative learning community is purely directed toward education in a social environment and not socializing per se. There are three fundamental elements of a learning community:

  • The social presence. The ability of the members of the community to identify with each member of the group, communicate the relevant information in a trusting environment and create social relationships through the expression of their individuality.
  • The cognitive presence. This is the exploration, confirmation, building and resolution of common understanding.
  • The teaching presence. This is the plan, direction and enabling of the social and cognitive processed toward the end goal of educationally worthwhile and meaningful learning outcomes. A learning community is a model that you should feel free to mold to your learning purposes.

The concept of learning communities recognizes that students too are a major source of knowledge in addition to course material and faculty. They are not passive receptacles to be pumped with information, but active learners. A great example of how community has revolutionized education is Duolingo – an online language tool that’s grown to over 50 million language users in only two and a half years since its launch.

And how did they manage to grow so fast? Through their very engaged community of volunteer teachers.

Duolingo was able to create an environment where volunteers were encouraged to create, teach and distribute their language courses. Through the use of an internal community named the Incubator, it allowed Duolingo to scale their course material, allowing volunteers to impart their knowledge.

Active Learning Experience That Goes Beyond Published Content

Online collaboration allows for the exchange and sharing of ideas that fosters trust, and helps your students feel more engaged. With comfort comes the motivation to actively participate in your courses by asking questions and providing feedback through online discussions.

To maintain effective online collaboration among your learners, make sure that:

  • You make clear that you want to know your audience.
  • You establish learning goals and objectives from the beginning.
  • You provide the netiquette for online discussions.
  • You offer immediate feedback by quickly responding to online questions and addressing your audience’s concerns. is one of the few learning platforms that are scaling to help educate people on how to code. However, it does have some limitations. The website falls short in teaching advanced concepts, only teaching you the basics of a few programming languages, without any real-world exercises.

So, how can a learner get that invaluable real-world experience?

Similarly, coding communities such as Project Euler and Reddit’s Daily Programmer SubReddit, provide users problems that are based on real-world experiences that they can solve. Best yet, coders are encouraged to share answers so that they can receive feedback from members of the community.

Developing the Online Community Learning Channel

Having a dedicated space for students and teachers to freely exchange between each other is essential to building a success learning community. Here are some important considerations:

  • Select a platform that will be intuitive to use for your students. The use of a platform should be seamless and simple. The focus should be more on the content than confusion on how to use a particular feature. There’s no point in having a community if it isn’t conducive to easily sharing and responding to content and that it mimics the same paste and go functionality found in popular social media platforms like Facebook.
  • Set expectations and forum rules. Your learners and moderators should know their roles and how they can behave in all interactions.
  • Create and link to valuable and relevant content. As much as forums create great discussions, they need to be filled with content. You can support your educational content with links from YouTube videos, articles and even audio content. After doing so, they can proceed to start a conversation about them to ensure that all the students understand the concepts posted.
  • Encourage participation through gamification. Independent learners sometimes may lurk instead of posting or collaborating. This can be prevented if they are given an editorial calendar on course topics and discussion times. Also, participation points can be provided through gamification techniques as a way to encourage discussion and can be added towards their grade.

Not all learning takes place within the confines of a classroom. Creating an online collaborative learning environment, provides a virtual campus with interactive communication tools that allow easier communication between faculty and the students.

Though physically separated by distance, learners are connected through their commitment to learning and one another. One thing is certain; developing an online collaborative learning experience through community is more engaging for learners than traditional learning models.

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Alok Chowdhury

Written by Alok Chowdhury

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