“Learning is interactive when learners are actively engaged in a variety of activities and along with their peers and teacher, they are co-constructors of knowledge. The learning environment provides a sense of a learning community, within which, participants collaborate with others to negotiate and share meanings”
— Chamberlain & Vrasidas, 2001
Man is a social animal. He learns better when he is a part of a group. Many learning theorists believe that humans do not learn in a vacuum, but rather through interaction. Bornstein in his work with Bruner (1989) concluded that “development is intrinsically bound up with interaction” (p. 13).
The full potential of eLearning could be realized through organization of learners as a collaborative community. This enables better dissemination of knowledge, because it helps its members to share their experiences. It facilitates better solutions to issues, as two or more minds working on a problem help provide quicker and efficient resolutions than efforts of a single individual.
I would like to share my thoughts on building efficient learning communities.
Setting the stage for engagement
In order to efficiently collaborate, the learners should know each other well. The instructor needs to ensure that the participants are aware of important issues concerning a virtual collaboration such as “Netiquette”. He needs to provide orientation to the e-course and spell-out the objectives of engagement in it. Activities such as icebreakers and individual introductions could be conducted.
Exploring the course
In this phase, the instructor needs to form learners into groups of two or three. Each group explores the course and starts collecting basic information. Activities such as peer reviews help the learner to analyze the work of their colleagues and develop critical thinking abilities.
Delving deeper into the course
Once the ground work for the course is done, it is time for the groups to gather detailed information and collaborate with each other to solve the problems. Discussions on the subject-matter of the course help the learners to draw on the experiences of their co-learners. Activities such as role-plays, jigsaws and so on, could be used to introduce the element of fun in this serious learning exercise.
Going beyond the instructor
The hall-mark of this phase is true collaboration between the learners. They DIRECT the activities to be conducted-group presentations and projects, learner-facilitated discussions, etc, often going beyond what the instructor intends them to do.
Improving the collaborative learning process
In this final phase, the learners analyze what they have learnt and identify the shortcomings of the learning process. They deliberate on the steps to be taken to improve the collaborative effort and implement them.
An efficient collaborative learning helps the e-learner and his peers to maximize the impact of acquisition of knowledge and skills, as they help each other find new ways of doing things, which improves their performance. How did you build a collaborative learning community? Do share your experiences with us.