Belonging and Identity: Creating and Sustaining Communities of Learning within Distance Learning Environments, While Focusing Upon Making Connections, Creating Communities of Learning, and Maintaining Personal and Professional Identities
Distance learning environments have long been considered learning silos, without the ability nor interest to engage in developing a feeling of belonging and identity within these communities of learning. Social research has long held that it is of vital importance for humans to develop a sense of community, of belonging and identity, with social situations. Not only does this social and psychological engagement enhance the conceptual framework of understanding on the part of the learners, but components related to self-regulation, chunking of information and cognitive load directly impact the success of the learner within the learning situation. Distance learning environments must focus upon creating and sustaining communities of learning, as the design and development of specific interactive activities within learning environments is of import towards the success of the learner, but the creation of communities of learning is also an inevitable responsibility on the part of the instructor upon implementation of the learning opportunity. The focus upon semiotics and metaphorical representations within the learning environment support the learner’s conceptual understanding of the subject matter, yet the significance of interactive activities engaged in by the learner must also include the development of a community of learners, and may include the learner’s interactions with the course instructor, fellow learner colleagues, the course learning environment, and even the professional and personal or social community as a whole. As distance learning environments mature, the creation and sustainability of communities of learning within distance learning environments must focus upon the learner’s sense of belonging and identity while continuing to focus upon the learner’s ability to make knowledge-based connections, social connections, communities of learning, communities of support, and continuing to maintain and further develop the learner’s sense of personal and professional identity.
Keywords: Distance Learning, Web-based Learning, Web-enhanced Learning, Communities of Learning, Learning Communities, Self-Regulation, Cognitive Load, Higher Order Thinking Skills, Communication, Interactive Activities, Semiotics, Information Chunking, Sense of Belonging, Learner Identity, Personal Identity, Professional Identity, Information Age, Conceptual Age, Knowledge Economy
Dr. Caroline M. Crawford
Associate Professor, Instructional Technology, University of Houston