Years ago I was part of an online community, or guild, in the popular online game World of Warcraft (Blizzard n.a). While it wasn’t a typical learning environment, it involved using many of the familiar tools used in a more academic environment. We used forums, online chats, and interacted with each other in a virtual environment. Some of us were co-workers and friends outside the game, but many inside the guild had never met in person. Establishing and maintaining the guild required an effort from all of the members.
In an online learning environment, building an online community can be a difficult task, even for an experienced facilitator. The rewards for building an online community, and maintaining it once built, can be incredibly rewarding for both the facilitator and the learner.
An online community, particularly where it is the only available social aspect of a learning environment, can help the instructor and learner form a trusting connection. This helps the learner form bonds between the instructor and fellow students. In the video program “Online Learning Communities” (Laureate Education 2010), Dr. Rena Palloff states that in an online community, the learners are able to help each other learn and the facilitator is able to help guide the discussion.
One of the most important elements of building an online community is getting the learners comfortable with the online learning environment. Dr. Keith Pratt (Laureate Education 2010) states that the facilitator should be familiar with the technology being used. Palloff adds that the facilitator should also continually interact with the learners and keep them engaged in order to sustain the online community and the continued growth of the learners.
Once the community has been established and the learners are comfortable using the tools needed to function in the learning environment, the facilitator can focus on ensuring the learners are effectively learning the material presented.
In the end, while it did not completely disband, the guild became less active as members left the game for various reasons. Some of this could be attributed to members becoming less interested in the game itself, but a big reason was that the community was not interacting as much. The reduced interaction between guild members meant others left for other guilds or played the game solo without interacting with anybody at all. If students in an online course become less interested in interacting in the online community, it might not take long for the course to become less effective.
Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (Producer) (n.a.) World of Warcraft. Retrieved from http://us.battle.net/wow/en/
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu