Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Learning Communities for Online Curricula

Zhao1 noted that "participating in a learning community is positively linked to engagement as well as student self-reported outcomes and overall satisfaction with college". In the application of learning communities to medical student training, a review in 2009 of 18 of 124 school identified the following goals2
  • fostering communication
  • promoting caring, trust, and teamwork;
  • helping students establish support networks for academics and social reasons. 
Learning communities in medical education are becoming more and more common. A survey in 2014 in which 126 of medical schools 151 responded3, found that 66 schools (52.4%) had learning communities. Almost half of the remaining schools were considering them.

The specific question I want to address is for those interested in replacing offline curricula with non-moderated online curricula:
  • How does one best implement an online learning community within an online curriculum where there is no identified teacher or director? 
Leaving aside the issue of fostering communication between two such parties, all of the other goals above are not specifically dependent on a course administrator. Just as players in a multi-player game can support each other, an online training experience can potentially provide a peer to peer learning community.

The challenge is not what technology to choose from (messaging, bboards, blogs, wikis, etc) but how to implement this aspect to aid efficiency and target deficiency in the online training. Assuming the training is well designed it is should offer challenge, reflection, motivation and feedback. Thus these not be the target of peer to peer interaction. A well done online multi-user simulation can potentially address teamwork [as seen in games such League of Legends and even CS Go] including communication and trust as well as leadership. That leaves an academic and social support network building tool.

Here, an online solution may actually be preferable. Online interactions can more easily be 24/7 and matched to the individual (age/gender/professional background/special concerns, etc). Well designed training will identified "accomplished" individuals who are qualified to provide academic support. And if necessary they can provide training in providing support (e.g., motivational interviewing, coaching).

In sum, adding learning community concept to quality online training is logical but should first follow more comprehensive development of the online training to ensure it includes challenge, reflection, motivation, feedback, and teamwork opportunity. The community can then be established to provide academic support from successful participants and social support from peers.
  1. Zhao Chun-Mei|Kuh. Adding Value: Learning Communities and Student Engagement. Research in Higher Education. 2004;45(2):115-138. doi:10.1023/B:RIHE.0000015692.88534.de.
  2. Ferguson Kristi J, Wolter Ellen M, Yarbrough Donald B, Carline Jan D, Krupat Edward. Defining and Describing Medical Learning Communities: Results of a National Survey. Acad Med. 2009;84(11):1549-1556. doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181bf5183.
  3. Smith Sunny, Shochet Robert, Keeley Meg, Fleming Amy, Moynahan Kevin. The Growth of Learning Communities in Undergraduate Medical Education. Acad Med. 2014;89(6):928-933. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000000239.

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