“The human connection remains an important part of online education”, “Creating a sense of community and shared mission needs to be part of any online strategy but also of any campus” (Bowen, 2012, p.239). Many authors sustain this idea about online learning. Bonk (2010), for example, in his video entitled Building Community, for example claims that “Communities are vital for the success of an online class.” (Bonk, 2010). Why is that? Rovai asserts that community helps reduce feelings of isolation (in Shea et al.,2005, p. 60). These authors add that: “A strong sense of community is also beneficial in reducing student “burnout” associated with higher attrition levels in distance learning.” (id.)
So we all agree that it is essential to create a sense of community in an online course because when both the affective factors and the cognitive factors are used together, the learning process can be built on a firmer foundation. Bowen (2012, p.226) also makes another statement about the fact that “College is a combination of products: learning, experiences, personal growth, connections, and a degree”.
If all the right conditions are put together, there is no doubt that online education allows for learning and a degree to take place. Experiences, personal growth and connections, when they are related to learning, can also happen in an online context. However, they are not only related to learning; they can be related simply to social skills that are essential for students to develop in order to succeed in life.
I went through the personal exercise of trying to identify what factors were involved when I have developed the feeling of belonging to a community. I came up with:
- sharing a goal,
- acknowledging what I have in common with other members of the community,
- establishing personal connections (related to the goal and not related to the goal) with certain members. My belief is that through these individual connections we develop a network that eventually spreads to the whole community.
The last point is what allows me to build trust and then, as a consequence, I feel free to communicate openly to the group. I have stayed in touch with some of the other students from online courses I have taken; some that I had met because I had to work in pairs or in a group of three. This contact didn’t last more than a year and was related only to study/work but I still feel a certain connection with them.
In a discussion started by Juliet Fernandes, one of my classmates, in one of our Discussion Forums: Can Virtual Classrooms Recreate a Traditional College Experience? (Sunday, 25 January 2015, 9:14 PM), I described my own experience in terms of online study versus on campus study. Here is what I said: “This course is my last one in the PIDP and my fifth one online. I am almost 50 years old and I studied at university when I was in my twenties. I have to say that in terms of studying, I enjoy the online courses much more and I feel like I am learning much more than I did in face-to-face classes. Plus, I work (more than) full time, I don’t see where I could find the time to take a F2F course. However, what … this discussion has made me realize is that, more than 20 years later, I still have friends from university and that I probably developed a big part of my social skills when I became a student. For one thing, I became independent; I had to move away from my parents place in order to go to university and I had my own place for the first time.”
Of course, it is not the role of the university to teach us life skills, but one can wonder how people studying only online and communicating only (or almost) through their technological devices will be able to function in life. Most importantly, for the purpose of this course, do we have to believe like Cuma who participated in the same forum (Monday, 26 January 2015, 7:51 PM), that “ The in-class experience is on the way out” because “Most young people already live and interact in an online world; they have already developed virtual collaborative skills.”
To summarize my feelings, I want to say that my personal preference goes largely to online learning and I strongly believe that “e-learning facilitates a more constructivist approach to learning, thus encouraging knowledge construction and critical thinking skills.” (Jonassen and colleagues (1995) in Bates (2004)). However, I do believe that face-to-face classes bring something essential to our life and even our learning experience.
We can create a sense of community in online courses which is essential for a good learning. The number of online courses and the level of comfort of students in studying online both seem to increase steadily. However, most of us want the physical campus to survive and face-to-face courses still to be an option. One of the reasons is the social aspect of face-to-face. Although this argument may easily be demolished by addicts of social media, I still believe that being able to communicate face-to-face with other human beings is important.
Another reason is that we can get in class what we cannot get online “By providing an opportunity for students to use their new factual knowledge while they have access to immediate feedback from peers and the instructor” (Brame, 2013). I wrote “we can” because the statement is only true provided that instructors build their courses in a way that allows interactions and active learning activities to take place. As Bowen (2012) demonstrates widely in his book, there is probably no other way to insure that faculties will survive physically.
Here comes the solution that I value the most: hybrid courses. “The best education of the future will be hybrid. There is value in physical contact with teachers, but there is also potential learning and real convenience in online coursework.” (Bowen, 2012, p.237). I find that it doesn’t take long to make some good connections among other students when they meet face-to-face even when it is only once in a while. These connections that are born during the face-to-face time can then be developed online very easily. This does create a real community of learner.
My goal is really to take the direction of hybrid education. I have started with the tutors that I train: instead of teaching them how to teach to adult learners and how to teach reading or writing, I ask them first to study a blog that I find extremely well done. Then I invite them to meet with me and we can talk about our different experiences using the different techniques taught in the blog.
I have also already mentioned in a previous journal that I am developing an online French course in order to allow my students to study at home, and to come to the course ready to practice what they have learned. I consider this solution ideal for learning a foreign language. Interactions with the instructor and the other students are essential for the practice, but studying the grammar and learning the vocabulary can be done individually. I don’t simply believe that hybrid education is more convenient, I also believe that it is the best solution for the learning process, on the condition that instructors adapt their teaching to this new process.
Bates, T. (2004). The promise and myths of e-learning in post-secondary education. In Castells, M. (ed.) The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective (pp. 271-284). Cheltenham, UK/Northampton MA: Edward Elgar. [PDF Document]. Retrieved from
Bonk, C. (2010, July 31). Building Community. Video retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4gDUkEI14Q
Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching Naked. How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Students Learning . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brame, C., (2013). Flipping the classroom. Retrieved Sunday, January 18, 2015 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/.
Shea, P., Li C. S., Swan, K. and Pickett A. (2005, December). Developing Learning Community In Online Asynchronous College Courses: The Role Of Teaching Presence. The Sloan Consortium. Volume 9, Issue 4. Retrieved from: http://sloanconsortium.org/jaln/v9n4/developing-learning-community-online-asynchronous-college-courses-role-teaching-presence