Our previous blog post introduced our readers to the PAIR Framework, a collection of collaborative learning strategies to build social learning into any learning situation.
We talked about why each of the four engines of collaborative learning (Presence, Accountability, Inclusion, and Reliance) is important, and how each of them could be used in different settings.
Now, we’re going to dive deeper into the first engine of the PAIR Framework: Presence. Presence is what allows a learning community to form.
At Eduflow, we believe that a shared feeling of presence is important in all learning situations, whether they’re formal or informal, in-person or online, synchronous or asynchronous.
What is presence in collaborative learning?
Imagine you’re standing in the crowd at a music festival. Your favorite performer–the whole reason you bought your tickets–is about to come on stage. You arrived hours early to get a good spot, and everyone around you did the same. These are the hardcore fans, the ones who know every song on every album.
Finally, the moment arrives: your rockstar idol gets on stage and starts playing their hits. The whole crowd goes wild and starts singing together. It’s an exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime moment that you’re all sharing.
Now imagine playing that exact same song on Spotify and singing along alone in your bedroom. It’s not quite the same, is it?
That difference is presence. Presence is a shared sense of purpose. It allows learners to interact with each other and makes them part of a community. To achieve this feeling of presence and build community, you need two essential elements:
- A space where community can form
- A shared goal or focus for your learners
A space for community
You can’t create a sense of presence without forming a community (even if it’s a fleeting one like in the music festival example above), and you can’t have community without presence.
But as we mentioned in our last blog post, community is not something you can create out of thin air. Communities need to form organically, through a sense of connection and around a shared purpose or experience.
What you can do, however, is create spaces where communities can form.
For in-person learning scenarios, that’s fairly simple: learners are already sharing a physical space. It’s also straightforward for synchronous, online learning, especially if participants use video, or pop into breakout rooms to work in smaller groups.
But creating that shared space is trickier in mostly asynchronous online scenarios like the kind of cohort-based courses Eduflow offers. Students don’t share a physical space, and they often aren’t even online at the same time.
But there are still lots of things that you can do to make your online learning space the kind of place that community is more likely to form.
First of all, use an interface with features that create a feeling of presence.
Features like chats and discussion sections allow students to communicate with each other and help them form connections, which is the basis for building a community.
Social media platforms use “currently online” features like a green dot to show when other users are connected. This tiny dot reinforces that other users are online and combats the sense that learners are alone at home staring at content on the screen.
With the right learning interface, learners can interact with each other, introduce themselves, and comment on each others’ posts. It puts learners in the same virtual spaces where they can interact, whether that’s smaller breakout rooms, discussion threads, or occasional synchronous events that they can choose to join.
The key is to remind your learners that they’re sharing this journey with others.
A shared goal or focus
On top of having a space for learners to interact that allows community to form, presence also means having a shared goal that the group wants to achieve together. This goal gives the group a shared purpose and a chance to come together.
That doesn’t mean that the goal the group shares has to be an assignment that they turn in at the end of the course–it can be more subtle, like a shared interest in mastering the material.
As an example, let’s take the popular Facebook group Things Found in Walls.
With over 535k members and many daily posts that each often garner hundreds of comments, the group definitely feels like a community with a strong sense of presence, even though members are spread all over the world and have most likely never met in person.
What they do have is a shared, fairly narrow goal: talking about all of the cool whacky things found in peoples’ houses.
Now, imagine a similar Facebook group just called “Things”. It brings together people who like and want to talk about Things. What things? All of them!
Doesn’t sound very interesting, does it? You’d have one person passionate about garden hoses and another who only wants to talk about knitting needles, and they wouldn’t have anything to say to each other. Their shared goal is too broad.
“Things Found in Walls” is specific enough to bring together a community of people drawn to a shared interest.
This is how you should think about shared goals that build a learning community, too: general enough that all of your learners are included, but specific enough that it can bring them together.
In a cohort-based course, this could be weekly discussion topics linked to the material you covered that week to spark interesting conversations, chat channels where students can share extra materials related to the topic of the course, or even just helping each other complete a group project and master the material.
If you want to cultivate presence, make your learning experience accessible
When you think about presence, one of the most important elements that often gets pushed to the side is accessibility. A community can’t form if people can’t access it. Here are a few ways to improve access.
Add captions to your videos for non-native speakers and people with hearing disabilities. Make sure you include transcripts as well, which can also help people with low internet bandwidth.
Use alt-text on your images so that screen readers can describe them. And if you have a live event, try to add virtual options so people in different locations and people with mobility issues can attend.
Cassandra Naji | EdTech Marketer & Director of L&D
William Cronje | Instructional Designer & Program Manager at Eduflow Academy