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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Learning together: Community and network from the perspective of designers of online learning
by Kaulback, Brenda G., Ph.D., Fielding Graduate University, 2015, 320; 3719286
Abstract (Summary)

How do those who design online learning create ways for learners to interact with each other? This exploratory study inquires into the practices and values of those who design online graduate courses which include a substantial amount of interaction among students. With the advent of participative or learner-centered learning, those designing online courses focused on interaction in online communities. These community-based designs included communities of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000), communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and collaborative learning (Dillenbourg, 1999). Social constructivist theory, in which learners make meaning through dialogue, is the basis for most of these community designs. However, the advent of social media and a connectivist approach, which conceives of learning as distributed and as the creation and maintenance of connections, has offered new options, including those of MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) for interaction among students.

Through interviews with 13 educators who design online graduate courses, as well as an analysis of the documentation of their courses, I explored how designers approach learner interaction in light of these new options. Using a thematic analysis approach, I developed the Community/Network Index (CNI) as a typology to frame the various design options. The Index allows those who are designing or teaching to see options and place themselves in a context that is aligned with their beliefs. It also gives researchers a starting point for further research. The key findings are that designers understood interaction in the network model to be more individualistic, ephemeral, unstructured, and more suitable for divergent thinking. In a community context, interaction was described as more intimate, more amenable to taking risks, and more conducive of deep dialogue. The study also found that a sense of community meant different things to those who design community and network approaches. Results also suggest that designers are often taking a synchronic view of the design options—a view that studies, replicates, rearranges, adapts learning designs beyond the dichotomy of community and network.

In relation to the design process itself, the study did not support a trend toward unbundling of faculty functions, but did find a trend toward technology options broader than those of learning management systems. Findings suggest that interaction among learners takes more time both from a design and a teaching perspective. Finally, the study shows that designers are creating options that include aspects of both the more traditional community model and the newer network model.

Keywords: Graduate online learning, higher education, community, network, networked learning, interaction, learning design.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Shapiro, Jeremy J.
Commitee: Davis, Loni B., Rosenthal, Patrice E., Steier, Fredereick, de Laat, Maarten F.
School: Fielding Graduate University
Department: The School of Human and Organization Development
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 77/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Instructional Design, Pedagogy, Educational technology, Higher education
Keywords: Community, Graduate online learning, Higher education, Interaction, Learning design, Network
Publication Number: 3719286
ISBN: 978-1-321-99602-9
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