EIDT 6510 Online Learning Communities

Posted: May 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


Today on a techie radio show hosted by Leo LaPorte, The Tech Guy (http://www.techguylabs.com/), I heard Leo mention the difference between broadcasting in the pre-internet days and broadcasting today is that previously a broadcaster was entertaining an audience, whereas today the broadcaster is involved with an interactive community.  I was surprised at the timing of this discussion as the similarity to the comparison between the traditional classroom and online learning communities is not lost on me.  The instructor in a traditional classroom setting is often depicted as sharing information with an audience of students, while effective online learning involves the creation of learning communities (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010) where the role of the instructor changes to that of a facilitator who is an equal member alongside the students (Laureate Education, Inc., Online Learning Communities, 2010).  When facilitators foster a successful learning community with students, students work collaboratively(along with the facilitator) to construct knowledge and meaning and become responsible for their own learning.  As a result, students’ perceived isolation decreases, attrition rates decrease, and student learning and satisfaction increases compared to online courses where students are not engaged in a learning community.

     According to our course video presentation, Online Learning Communities (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010), building an online learning community can be accomplished through the elements of people, purpose, and process, suggesting several strategies the facilitator can implement to establish the learning community as a safe, welcoming environment for students.  They suggested that the facilitator should email students individually at the start of the course with their personal bio and introduction in addition to posting this information in an easily accessible area of the online classroom.  Conrad and Donaldson explained in their book, Engaging the Online Learner (2011), that there are four phases of engagement across the duration of an online course, delineating the role of the facilitator during each phase to foster the learning community.  The facilitator must be engaged in every phase, although over time their role will change as students become comfortable with the environment and each other, resulting in the course becoming increasingly student-led.  Conrad and Donaldson list the roles of the facilitator and students during each phase of engagement as follows:

                phases of engagement

Throughout the course, it falls upon the facilitator to be cognizant of what is taking place in the online environment at any given time so they will be able to provide the necessary and appropriate support and guidance to individuals and to the group as a whole.  As a future online facilitator, I appreciate and will utilize these guidelines to create, establish and sustain learning communities.  In addition, I found the suggestions from the course video to be particularly helpful, e.g., visiting the class environment multiple times per day in the first week or two, knowing when and how often to personally reach out to struggling students through emails or phone calls,  how to conduct the orientation to the learning environment to help students increase their chances for success in class, and how to set the tone of the class in a personal way to make students feel comfortable and welcome.  Staff training has been one of my favorite roles in my career as  public health dietitian over the years, so with these tools at hand, I am looking forward to facilitating online courses and fostering effective online learning communities for the students I will serve!


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

  1. Hi Lorena.

    I enjoyed reading your post. Your analogy was spot on. I like your Phases of engagement chart. I am curious, as a public health dietician, what kinds of trainings do you facilitate?


    • Thank you, Katrina!
      In my job as a dietitian I do a lot of staff training on various topics, as well as presentations for my dietitian colleagues. I’ve done nutrition-related presentations, cooking demos (for a variety of audiences), breastfeeding topics, leadership and management, vegetarian/vegan/raw vegan demos…and others I may not be remembering right now!

  2. Angela Johnson says:

    Hi Lorena,
    I think your analogy of the radio show host talking about how radio has changed in conjunction with how teaching in schools as changed is a really good one.

    Palloff and Pratt Laureate education discuss how the teacher is no longer the sage on the stage but now has become the facilitator who makes online education work is on point too. We have had many courses here at Walden and I think we can both attest to the fact that the facilitators (professors) who have been active in our courses having made us do more research; give due diligence to answering threaded post and completing course projects. Whereas the facilitators (Professors) who have stayed too far in the background have made us lackadaisical in completing threaded post and completing course projects.

    I enjoyed reading your post Lorena.


    Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Evaluating distance learning theory [Video file]. Retrieved from https://Class.waldenu.edu.

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