Constructing and Enhancing Diverse Social Communities within Online Learning Environments: Enhancing the Instructional Process through Considerations Concerning Identity, Belonging and Related Cultural Conditions of Learning
Educational institutions have been considered silos of information, but may also be considered silos of diversity due to the lack of focus upon the learner’s feelings of identity, belonging and the cultural conditions associated with learning. With the exponential growth of online learning environments, the silo effect has become a distinct reality that must be overcome. As relates to learning diversity, the learner differences must be embraced and the learners socialized towards a respect and understanding of the social and cultural differences that enhance the learning environment. Social communities must be designed, developed and protected so as to ensure the learner’s enhanced feelings of identity, belonging and other aspects that impact learning. Within the learning environment, social communities are developed through not only instructionally designed components of instructional goals, instructional objectives and appropriate evaluative components, but also through the instructional support components of self-regulation, chunking of information so as to appropriately consider cognitive load. Yet of further import is the construction and enhancements related to diversity within social communities within the online learning environment. The enhancement of online learning environments support the instructional process while also designing components related to semiotics and cultural understanding, while developing a sensitivity related to cultural conditions that also support aspects related to learner identity and a sense of belonging within the community. Different forms of interactive activities must be appropriately and successfully designed and developed throughout the online learning environment, with considerations given to both perceived and actual interactive activities. As well, the online learning instructor must develop an understanding of and sensitivity towards engaging within and the slow and deliberate emergence of sustainable social communities that may not only engage the online learner but develop strong social bonds that may sustain far beyond the conclusion of the online learning experience.
Keywords: Distance Learning, Web-Based Learning, Web-Enhanced Learning, Communities of Learning, Learning Communities, Social Communities, Diversity, Diverse Social Communities, Self-Regulation, Cognitive Load, Higher Order Thinking Skills, Communication, Interactive Activities, Semiotics, Information Chunking, Autonomous Communities, Dynamic Communities, Information Age, Conceptual Age, Knowledge Economy
Dr. Caroline M. Crawford
Associate Professor, Instructional Technology, University of Houston-Clear Lake
Ruth Gannon Cook
Assistant Professor, School for New Learning, DePaul University