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Virtual Learning Community: Definition & Environment

Instructor: Ashley Johns

Ashley has taught college business courses and has a master's degree in management.

We live in an online world, and education is part of this worldwide trend. This lesson explores virtual learning communities and how to teachers can use them effectively.

What is a Virtual Learning Community?

The world has transitioned into a technology-heavy phase in which knowledge and information are available at the touch of a button. Getting an education is no different. Schools have taken the curriculum from the physical classroom to the Web through virtual learning communities. A virtual learning community has been defined as a 'virtual classroom' or 'computer-supported knowledge-building community.' Essentially, it is an online classroom. In some ways, it is similar to a physical classroom, in that the instructor is responsible for developing the curriculum and sharing it with the students in a way that helps to build community. The instructor does so by creating a presence in the classroom, being available to students, and providing meaningful feedback.

Creating a Presence

Among the most common complaints from students taking classes online is a lack of instructor presence in the classroom. Students need to know their teachers are there for them when they have questions or concerns. This means consistently posting announcements, forum responses, feedback, and hours of availability.

Announcements may range from current events related to the material to helpful tips for success in the classroom. For example, for students who are new to the virtual learning world, teachers could post an announcement about the importance of checking school email or where to find homework resources. The current events help bring the material to life and allow students to relate.

Announcement Example

The discussion forum is a great place to directly interact with students. The goal is to direct and encourage interaction, and most teachers do this by asking questions and providing examples. Current events and personal examples are a great way to spark conversation in the discussion forum. Instructors must be vigilant about monitoring discussion forum conversations to ensure that the interaction is appropriate and educational. Students who are being unprofessional (poor spelling/grammar or rude comments) should be privately emailed rather than called out in front of the class.

Are Office Hours Important?

Students and education professionals vary in their opinions on office hours. Students like to know that instructors will be available at specific times each week, yet they rarely use office hours to connect with instructors. Ideally, teachers should set aside a one- to two-hour time slot on a weekly basis to meet with students, while also providing contact info such as a phone number and email address. For example, teachers may include a signature at the bottom of their email message that lists a phone number and states that students may call between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (or whatever preferred hours are). Students understand and usually respect time frames if given, as no one expects teachers to be on call 24/7.

The basis of the office hour theory is the same as creating a presence: instructors need to show that they are available and care. Students who know their instructors care are more likely to succeed than those who feel alone.

Providing Meaningful Feedback

One great way for teachers to show they care is by providing meaningful feedback to each student for every assignment. That means providing individualized feedback based on the students' submitted work. Every company/school has a policy on these requirements, and feedback styles are a matter of personal preference. But a few ideas include a note to the individual with a summary of feedback, comments embedded in the assignment, and a grading rubric highlighting the reasons for the grade earned.

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