The Elusive Metaphor of Community in Virtual Learning Environments Richard A. Schwier, Ed.D.

Educational Technology and Design 28 Campus Drive University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon, SaskatchewanCanada S7N 0X1 Email: Phone: (306) 966-7641 Fax: (306) 966-7658 This research is supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Please cite as: Schwier, R.A. (2011). The elusive metaphor of virtual learning communities. In G. Anglin (Ed.) Instructional technology: Past, present, future (3rd ed.) (pp. 295-306). Englewood Cliffs, CO: Libraries Unlimited. Chapter reprinted from a paper presented at ED-MEDIA 2009, Honolulu, HI. Abstract Social networking software and sites are often mistakenly called learning communities, betraying a significant lack of agreement or concern for what actually constitutes a community. However, social networking is being used by teachers to engage students in dynamic ways and by learners as vehicles for constructing their own, very personal learning environments and communities. This chapter draws on lessons we have learned about building personal learning environments and virtual communities from our research and experience in formal and non-formal learning environments. It addresses the key questions of how can we construct, maintain, and usher out communities; who joins communities; and what characteristics of communities seem to be shared across learning environments. The chapter also questions whether the label “community” is actually a failed metaphor for something that seems to be much too dynamic and elusive to capture with a single construct.

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