Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Planting a Seed in Fertile Ground: Helping Online Learning Communities Work

Fiona Peterson.

Planting a seed in fertile ground with purpose generates discussion; planting in a barren field results in conversation and learning dying off. When choosing the online environment for "fertile ground" in education, we can look to communities of practice and formal knowledge networks. Between these two models there is common ground, such as peer learning and collective strength; but there are fundamental differences to do with strategic focus, structure and governance, and being outcome driven.

Outcomes for a knowledge-sharing network may include influencing decision-makers, policy and behaviour; shaping professional practice; developing new products to be competitive in the market; being regarded as a leader in the field; or creating new knowledge. Outcomes for a community of practice may include learning transformation through dialogue, resulting in personal practice improvement and sometimes new knowledge made explicit. For some, though, these outcomes can be elusive. There may be a tension then within a community of practice between disliking an "autocratic" approach, yet preferring tangible outcomes.

In education we often provide a structured learning experience with outcomes based on objectives, as evidence of learning within a program of study. A hybrid collaborative model should be robust and support sustained interest and momentum in the community. This model would take in peer learning through "creative chaos" and dynamic relationship building, while ensuring a more strategic approach and outcome-driven focus.

The proposed model and guidelines for facilitation may be considered by educators and others interested in online social learning.


Fiona Peterson  (Australia)
Senior Lecturer and Program Leader Master of Arts (Virtual Communication)
School of Creative Media
RMIT University

Fiona Peterson, MEd is a PhD candidate. Her research interests include e-communication strategy and knowledge-sharing networks for global education. Fiona is a Senior Lecturer and Program Leader of the Master of Arts (Virtual Communication) in the School of Creative Media, RMIT University, Australia. She teaches Global Relationship Management and facilitates online collaborative projects for graduate students with international mentors, such as the World Bank in Washington.

  • Knowledge networks
  • Communities of practice
  • Online communication
  • Online learning communities

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)