A Literature Review of K-12 Virtual Learning Communities
Virtual learning environments, often referred to as online learning or e-learning, have proliferated both at the K-12 and the adult levels. Formal virtual learning communities (VLCs) at the K-12 level however, are relatively new phenomena. Traditionally, literature regarding online learning has focused largely on technology and learner-computer interaction. These isolated computer-mediated environments where the need for community and human interaction remains unchanged and unchallenged stand in contrast with face-to-face environments where community has traditionally been created and fostered. The emergence of communities in virtual learning environments provides challenges and opportunities to develop interactive, collaborative communities. This field is growing and expanding rapidly, inviting innovation, enthusiasm and the attention of researchers and practitioners. Associated literature is expanding and the need for further research has been noted (Nippard & Murphy, 2007). While there have been significant contributions to research in this area, the sparseness of literature reveals a need for further investigation. For this review a comprehensive search of the literature was conducted although research on VLCs in higher education is more abundant than research at the k-12 level. Research on the formative elements of VLC, both formal and informal is extensive, especially as it pertains to the adult population. Sadik (2003) and Downs and Moller (1999) note the need for research to address the younger generation of online learners and specifically the topic of socialization at the high school level. The paucity of literature at the K-12 level is largely attributable to the fact that the field is in the early stages of development and as such, concepts are not clearly defined. Research has suggested that educational and online communities are underdeveloped and in their infancy (Coffman, 2004; Downes, 1998; Gordin, Gomez, Pea, & Fishman, 1996). The technological revolution in education, rooted in philosophy, theory and pedagogy, has radically affected traditional, alternative and distance education pedagogy. Of significant interest for this review are theoretical underpinnings, instructional design elements, emerging communications technologies, changing roles for teachers and students, and implications for pedagogy and research. Definitions and Contexts
There is no clear definition for or understanding of VLC terminology. Even the term virtual schooling can have different meanings for different people (Barbour, 2008). Definitions of VLCs are as varied as those of traditional face-to-face learning communities. Unstable terminology leads to confusion and a lack of clarity, but can be expected in an emergent and formative area of practice (Pea, 2002; Barbour; 2008). According to Pea (2002), meaning is derived from examining the three component parts separately: virtual, learning and community. The term virtual indicates that the medium for communication and community formation are computer and related web-based technologies. The term learning identifies the objective of activity in this context. Learning can be defined in many ways and is context dependent (Schwier, 2007). The term community refers to a group of participants who have something in common. At the heart of any community is a shared sense of purpose for being together which sets the tone for, and delineates parameters of the community (Schwier, 2007). Stuckey and Barab (2007) mentioned that community can be different to different people and that, as a concept, it is gaining popularity. Together the three concepts are associated with collaboration, interaction, shared goals, exploration, reflection, knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and common interests (Coffman, 2004). VLCs, as an emerging trend in education take many shapes and forms. They differ in purpose and scope using both asynchronous...
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