In many online learning communities, the underlying theories were Constructivism and Communities of Practice with a Learner-centred approach.
This literature review focuses on terminology, key educational theories and 'delightful learning' in the literature about online learning communities.
Key terminology in the literature and this report included: 'online' to refer to access to the Internet and included the synonyms, virtual, cyber and web; 'facilitator' to describe the adult who facilitates students' learning, and 'students' for the members in the Learn-Now community. An 'online learning community' is a group of people who communicate with each other on the Internet to share information, learn about a topic, and /or work on a project of mutual interest. A 'blended' community integrates both online and face-to-face meetings, and an 'online' community does not have face-to-face meetings.
Educational theories, principles and approaches
In the literature, key educational theories, principles and approaches underpinning online learning communities included Constructivism and Communities of Practice learning theories, and Learner-centred principles and approach.
Constructivism involves students learning through meaningful and authentic learning experiences. They construct knowledge and understandings by reflecting on their experiences and what they already know about the world. Vygotsky's (1978) social constructivist theory emphasizes the social influences on learning where learners are involved in collaborative learning and knowledge is the result of social interaction.
Community of Practice
The 'Community of Practice' is a group of people with similar goals and interests, who work together and share their knowledge, developing common practices, language, beliefs and values over time (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
Learner-centredness was also evident in literature about effective teaching and learning in online learning communities. It focuses teaching and learning on the student rather than on the teacher. The American Psychological Association (1997) provided fourteen learner-centred principles as a framework for a learner-centred approach, applicable for all learners irrespective of age and context.
In the literature, delight occurred as online communities developed over a period of time. Salmon's (2000) model with five stages of development and Ramondt and Chapman's (1998) four stages. Ramondt and Chapman, researchers from Ultralab described 'True delight' as the final stage in the development of two online communities they were researching.
'Delight' was not often mentioned in the literature, except when associated with Ultralab, a learning and technology research centre in England. Ultralab considered that learning needed to be delightful (Heppell & Ramondt, 1998). In this research project on the Learn-Now programme, data was collected over four terms in a year to investigate whether or not delight was only evident after a period of time.
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