Community in Online Higher Education: Challenges and Opportunities

Lily Arasaratnam-Smith, Maria Northcote
2017 The Electronic Journal of e-Learning   unpublished
Exploring the challenges and opportunities associated with the concepts of community and communication in online higher education, this paper reconsiders the intention to replicate face-to-face learning and teaching strategies in online learning environments. Rather than beginning with the assumption that face-to-face education is the prototype for quality, the authors appraise the online learning environment as a unique medium which, by its nature, necessitates unique communication,
more » ... ication, community-building, teaching and learning strategies. This paper proposes an in-depth analysis of the potential unique affordances associated with online learning contexts as existing in their own right. The concepts of community and communication are explored in relation to online Communities of Practice (CoPs). The nature of face-to-face and online learning contexts are considered, especially in the light of the possibility of redefining "face-to-face" within the online realm, in addition to physical learning contexts. The paper identifies unique ways in which online communication (in the context of learning) is different from face-to-face communication, and consequently four ways in which this can be an advantage for students; namely, there is a measure of social egalitarianism, emphasis on verbal/written proficiency, time for reasoned response, and social agency. The paper provides grounding for further research into strategies that forge rich online learning experiences and suggests an empirical study as a next step.
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