Community has always been a big part of the learning process. In recent decades, the meaning of the word ‘community’ has shifted slightly as new opportunities for communicating have become available.
Thanks to the eLearning revolution, many learners now have access to virtual learning environments (VLE). These can be either virtual classrooms or a virtual campus. Digital spaces like those mentioned can offer fantastic opportunities to discuss course content, manage collaboration and consolidate lessons.
But how do these virtual learning environments (VLE) and online learning communities compare to more traditional face to face communities?
Why is community such an important part of the learning process?
Before comparing offline and online learning communities, it’s essential to understand exactly why communities are such an important part of education.
Humans are very social beings, and there is a great deal of value in being able to discuss course content and resources with fellow students.
Without these community structures, education would be a very lonely place. Students wouldn’t be able to work together on group projects, help each other through tricky material or share their interest and passion for certain subjects.
Additionally, learning communities play a significant role in ensuring that students remain motivated to succeed. Within these social networks there is often a healthy level of competition, be this explicit or implicit. Healthy competition can help to keep students focused and dedicated to the task at hand.
The case for offline learning communities
Places to learn used to just be limited to the four walls of a classroom. Before the growth of virtual learning environments (VLE) like virtual classrooms or a virtual campus, learning communities available to students were very much organised in a physical space.
Learners worked with and alongside other learners in their class. Group work and course content related conversations generally either took place in class or during breaks. If students wanted to continue these conversations outside of class, they would need to arrange additional meet ups to do so.
Despite the limitations of this, for many people the warmth of face to face human interaction make up for it. Friendships between students happen very naturally, which means that teamwork is often more effective.
The case for online learning communities
One of the major benefits of online learning communities is that they are not so time limited as offline communities. Students can drop in to virtual learning environments (VLE) whenever and wherever they want.
In fact, many people prefer meeting in virtual classrooms or on a virtual campus. This is because many people feel more confident communicating virtually.
Another great factor of online learning communities is that they generally offer a wide range of communication choices. Students can decide how to interact on their virtual campus; for example whether they prefer to email, engage in virtual messaging or to join video chats.
Although in the past students have viewed the communication options offered by most virtual learning environments (VLE) as somewhat impersonal, the growth of virtual classrooms and video chatting has changed this dramatically.
Blended learning and the ‘best of both worlds’ philosophy
Blended learning has, once again, changed the way learning communities work. Students no longer have to make a decision about whether to learn in physical classrooms or virtual classrooms.
Instead, they can make the decision to join a blended learning programme. This way they enjoy the best of what both options have to offer.
In a blended learning programme, students can make natural human connections within the classroom. They then build on those relationships via a virtual campus. A virtual learning environment (VLE) offers a great opportunity for students to manage group work and continue class debates outside of usual class time.
So, what makes online learning spaces different? Well, unlike in traditional offline spaces, theres no need to arrange seperate face-to-face meet ups and worry about if people are free or where to go. Comparing course notes or practicing new skills can be done by easily connecting in virtual classrooms at a time that suits the student.
It’s also well worth noting that teachers can also use these virtual classrooms to run quick revision sessions, clear up misconceptions and share related materials. All outside of the usual class schedule.
How can you find out more about online learning communities and how to build an effective one?
If you work in a traditional educational institution, and are exploring the idea of blended learning and how a virtual learning platform could enhance the overall experience of your students, here are some pointers on how students can progress faster and more effectively with blended learning.
Alternatively, if you work in an organisation that delivers online training courses, and considering enchancing your existing online learning communities, why not read about the features of our Voluxion learning platforms and what they could do for your organisation?
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