Our exchanges with others play a fundamental role in our ability to learn, first as human beings, but also as learners. We all have in mind a teacher or classmates who have marked our school career. It is therefore difficult to hope for quality learning without this fundamental dimension. In online training, however, the learner most often stands alone in front of a screen… Is it impossible to see a social dimension blossom in such a context? Quite the contrary! Here are 10 key points to bring light into it.
Alone together. Since every task, even when performed individually, is also part of a social context that contributes to giving it meaning and value, “individual” training does have a social dimension. Firstly, because the learner interacts with the teacher (or trainer), whose presence and role is essential (Dixson, 2010). Secondly, because learners also interact with each other, and these interactions help them learn, as well as develop a sense of belonging that fosters engagement.
For an “architecture of engagement”. Online learning programs must be designed to value the “person dimension” and support the social construction of engagement. An “architecture of engagement” requires active learning, breaking down training into modules, and paying particular attention to the presentation of the course outline and orientation. It is also essential to integrate multiple communication platforms that learners could have access to.
It should be noted that although active learning is to be favoured, particularly because it promotes social presence and engagement, the so-called “passive” activities are not to be excluded from elearning.
A definition of the “social presence” of learners. According to Ben Kehrwald (2008), who has studied the subject, the so-called “social” presence of learners in elearning is defined as “performative, that is, it was demonstrated by visible activity; posting messages, responding to others, and participating in the activities of the groups.”
To this definition, he adds that this presence also translates into the ability of learners to share more than just facts and to feel that they are communicating with real people in cyberspace (Kehrwald, 2008).
A well-balanced social presence of the teacher. Teacher social presence most often consists of “guiding student learning, providing feedback, serving up reminders, doubling back to reinforce concepts students have struggled with, and otherwise actively facilitating their classes”, as Shannon A. Riggs and Kathryn E. Linder (2016) explain.
In other words, the teacher’s role here is to respond to the meaningful actions of learners and to elicit their reflection on learning. Note: While this presence is essential for effective online learning, it must be deployed judiciously to avoid any counterproductive effects…
Required participation. Full participation of learners is essential for interaction. It should be mandatory, not simply encouraged. However, this participation would pay off for learners, as it would be “the” factor most likely to motivate them to participate in online training programs! To be more specific, online learners would be particularly motivated by taking on more responsibility.
Concrete positive effects. Social presence in online learning has several positive effects. In addition to motivation, it promotes a sense of connection with peers, job performance and learner satisfaction.
Emotional dimension and sense of affiliation. The social dimension in learning is closely linked to the emotional dimension. Whether through collaboration or competition, the presence of peers helps learners assimilate knowledge better and nurtures a sense of belonging that fosters commitment. This sense of affiliation can develop towards the group, but also towards the training project and the institution that provides it.
Investing in the “Other”. Much like one invests in a task cognitively and emotionally, one invests in the “Other” or others cognitively and emotionally through different types of social groupings.
Meaningful interactions. To be effective, interactions must be meaningful, learner-centred and structured. Meaningful interaction is related to the feeling of having a “real” exchange with a “real” person.
Tools for active learning. The discussion forum can be one of the most promising active learning tools for asynchronous elearning. However, its use needs to be reviewed, especially to provide a space for learners to value the conversation as a whole — not for individual learner interventions.
Learners should be encouraged to publish non-text content (visuals, videos, audio, etc.). Elearning should further explore the multiple interactive tools available outside of Learning Management Systems (LMS), and offer activities that are off the beaten track.
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