A Theory of Online Learning as Online Participation

Jan. 01, 2009
Source:Computers & Education, Volume 52, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 78-82
(Reviewed by The Portal Team)
In this paper, an initial theory of online learning as online participation is suggested.
It is argued that online learner participation

(1)  Online learner participation is a complex process of taking part and maintaining relations with others

The concepts of sense of community, learning communities and knowledge-building communities are closely related with learning as participation. However, this relationship is complex and depends on how each of the concepts is defined.
(2)  Online learner participation is supported by physical and psychological tools
Vygotsky (1978) distinguished two types of tools, physical and psychological tools.
In most situations, physical tools (e.g., computer) help people to accomplish their goals.
Psychological tools (e.g., language) are usually used together with physical tools.

Traditionally, the importance of communication has often been neglected in correspondence studies and distance education since the emphasis has been on self-directed learning. However, in online education, the Internet has made it possible for learners and teachers to interact more frequently.

Thus, the introduction of physical tools (e.g., a computer with internet connection and conference software) has made it possible to communicate more frequently with peers and teachers, which in turn enables learners and teachers to share more experiences and information, and engage in collaborative work.
(3) Online learner participation is not synonymous with talking or writing
Participation occurs on both personal and social levels. Thus, it should be clarified that
people may participate socially even at times when they are not engaged in a conversation with someone.

(4) Online learner participation is supported by all kinds of engaging activities
The assumption that underlies this paper, that online learner participation drives learning,
 is also supported by cooperative and collaborative learning theories.
However, participation should not be regarded as equivalent to cooperation or collaboration.

Wenger refers to participation as ‘‘a process of taking part and also to the relations with others that reflect this process”. It is a complex process that involves everything that people do and feel when being part of engaging experiences.

The implication of the theory is straightforward: In order to enhance online learning, there is need to enhance online learner participation.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Updated: Nov. 30, 2008