Chapters Two and Three consider how information technologies can contribute to two well-defined higher-education missions (delivering and creating instruction) and, in so doing, can address some major challenges that higher education now faces. But the preceding chapter discussed how the Internet, in particular, might play a much broader role: fostering electronic-learning communities. Not surprisingly, the potential effects of such communities on specific educational problems are much tougher to gauge than are those of more well-defined technologies, such as distance learning. For one thing, these communities often emerge spontaneously, rather than as part of a deliberate plan aimed at specific educational goals. Moreover, since Web-based groups are so new, it will be some time before, we see which key problems in higher education they might help solve, if any. And, if online communities do help improve educational outcomes, almost certainly they will do so not simply by reducing labor costs and increasing the productivity of traditional higher-educationdelivery systems, but by transforming learning and teaching practices.
In spite of these uncertainties, electronic-learning communities are worthy of attention, because, if they realize even a fraction of the benefits BioMedNet or the World Lecture Hall seem to promise, they will indeed make a substantial mark on higher education.
If you scan the WWW for online educational communities, it quickly becomes apparent that, however formative they may be, they are also ubiquitous. We have reviewed communities that conduct and publish research and share curricula; but others are appearing