Handbook of Distance Education

By Michael Grahame Moore; William G. Anderson | Go to book overview

15
Group Development in Online
Learning Communities
Kayleigh Carabajal
The University of New Mexico
kcarabajal@tvi.cc.nm.us
Deborah LaPointe
The University of New Mexico
debla@unm.edu
Charlotte N. Gunawardena
The University of New Mexico
lani@unm.edu

INTRODUCTION

Early proponents of online education presented a compelling vision of computer-mediated communication (CMC) as a medium uniquely capable of supporting the creation of communities of learners actively engaging in time- and place-independent group interaction. Mason and Kaye (1989, p. 3) envisioned this potential as, “a means for the weaving together of ideas and information from many people's minds, regardless of when and from where they contribute. ” This vision of networked minds presupposes the formation and development of a cohesive group of individuals united in pursuit of a common learning goal. In order to facilitate effective group learning in this medium, it is critically important for educators to understand how online learning groups form, develop, accomplish tasks, and change over time.

The literature of psychology, sociology, and management is rich with group development theory and models developed and validated within a face-to-face environment. Computermediated communication (CMC), however, produces social environments markedly different from those commonly observed in face-to-face settings. Research suggests that communication and the very nature of the group itself changes when interactions are computer-mediated (Burt, Grady, & McMann, 1994). While a growing body of research contributes to our understanding of the effects of CMC within learning environments, a dearth of research on group development provides little evidence, other than anecdotal, that effective learning groups can and do develop online (Siegel, Dubrovsky, Kiesler, & McGuire, 1986; McDonald & Gibson, 1998; Sudweeks & Allbritton, 1996).

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