Education is more than transferring knowledge from one person to another without integrating the information. It requires the building of a sense of community so that students can see themselves in a different light and find support for their goals. A study by Shackelford & Maxwell (2012) helps to define how a sense of community is developed in an online educational environment. Accordingly, they found that introductions, group projects, sharing personal experiences, class discussions, and exchanging resources made all the difference. Of these exchanging resources for learning seemed to be the most important.
Online education is not simply about posting information in a forum. It is about the way in which that information is presented for maximum learning and having students cognitively engage in the process of learning. There are varying aspects of learning that include social reinforcement and mental processes that further the way in which students understand the information and how it may enhance their lives.
Social constructivism is a concept whereby people make meaning out of information by actively engaging in it. It is a process of learning new information, testing it, sharing it, and manipulating that information to gain higher levels of understanding. The purpose of online education is to create conduits of social constructivist learning through activities infused with information.
To effectively engage students it is required that they have full expression of themselves through social and emotional processes. The use of cognitive, social and teacher presence it is possible to enhance learning through multiple paths of understanding. It is this environmental framework that creates higher levels of motivational cognitive activities that are encourage through social engagement.
The survey was conducted with 381 students. The researched looked at the overall social factors and interaction of students. A Likert scale and reverse coding were used. SPSS was the statistical software and a Chi-square analysis was conducted to understand the relationship between frequency and importance.
Interactions are associated with a sense of community. The more people interacted the more they viewed themselves as a group. Using introductions allowed students to foster the rapport needed for the rest of the semester. Students who shared experiences personalized and incorporated their information to more real life scenarios. Sharing resources between students allowed students to take ownership over their learning instead of relying on the instructor only.
The report doesn’t indicate this concept but it is important to see such social learning as active versus passive learning. When students develop a sense of community, find their own ways of relating to the material, and find resources that help them achieve their goals they are taking an active role in their learning. They are no longer passive receptors of information but become part of the overall process and own that education to a higher degree. Social, cognitive, and resource develop appear to be an important part of the higher education process.
Shackelford, J. & Maxwell, M. (2012). Sense of community in graduate online education: contribution of learning to learner interaction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13 (4).