Monday, October 29, 2007

E-Learning Mythbusters #3

Go to any e-Learning conference and you will hear a great deal about the importance of building a sense of "community" for your e-learners. This is one of the myths/realities that I try to explore in my e-Learning Mythbusters presentation. At the ETOM conference at Mott Community College I posed the following question to the audience (about 60 people responded with clickers):

As you can see, 71% of the educators in the audience indicated that developing a sense of community for the students is either important or very important. Before we explored this question any further, I asked the second question which is whether they think students want (desire) to develop a sense of community in their e-learning.

I think that the audience came pretty close on this one, at least in a round about way. I actually think that 40% of the audience gave the wrong answer - because I believe that (generally speaking) online students are not very interested in spending their time developing community among their peer learners. However, I think the audience numbers are somewhat reflective in the following way: in my estimation (read - SWAG) 40% of the students at most are interested in developing a sense of community with their e-learning endeavors. The majority are not interested in doing so.

Why not? My theory (and I admit that it is a bit if a stretch to even call it a theory) is that the average (if there is one) e-learner has several communities that they are already a part of. At my school, our online students are typically raising a family, working at one or two jobs, and in many other ways not your typical “captured” college student. In other words, they are already heavily involved in several “communities” that are very important to them - work(1), work(2), kid’s school, church, neighborhood, friends, etc. etc. For many people, the idea of developing another community (takes time and commitment) is just a bit too much to ask. One reason that they are drawn to e-Learning in the first place is because their lives are very full and heavily scheduled. They want to get their coursework done and meet deadlines (OK, that’s not always true). Building community in their e-learning takes time that they prefer to spend in other pursuits.

So we have a bit of a dilemma. Educators believe that students need to develop a sense of community with their online college, but the students believe otherwise.


Isn't that what we always assume? Of course we know what's best for them, even when they can't see it. Hmmm, maybe we need to re-think this.

One more take on all this, which I believe is especially true of the younger e-learners out there. They spend a great deal of time building online community in their social networking (Facebook, MySpace, etc.). The last thing they want is for their e-Learning to look like their social networking. They are sending a message to us when they tell educators to stay out of their social networking spaces. We also need to recognize the amount of informal learning that takes place outside of the e-Learning environment. Of course, we haven’t figured out how to do that yet. 'til next time.

1 comment:

Barry Dahl said...

Emma Duke-Williams responded on her blog to this post and took me to task for not providing the results of what the students actually think. She's right.
Her post is here:

My reply below:
Hi Emma,
You're right that in that particular post I didn't give the results of student surveys about the importance of community. I do have that info (which is somewhat elusive, at best) in another place.

At the link above you see the results of how our online students rate the importance of "sense of community" as well as the even lower importance of "student-to-student collaborations."

Not saying this is a definitive answer or proves anything, but I do believe that it indicates an area for further study.

Best, Barry