Community-based learning (CBL) is a new revolutionary approach towards learning. When competing against in-person learning, passive online learning never really stood a chance. Students felt bored and unmotivated to finish the course and barely retained the information for longer periods of time. This resulted in a kind of skepticism around online learning. Consequently, fewer people were keen on it in comparison to traditional classroom learning.
However, with the breakthrough of the CBL approach, much has changed. Not only has online learning become active and effective, but much preferred by busy young professionals for acquiring new skills.
What is community-based learning?
The name in itself is quite self-explanatory. A kind of learning approach that incorporates community for effective exchange of ideas and active understanding. According to the Glossary of Education reform, Community-based learning is defined as follows:
...refers to a wide variety of instructional methods and programs that educators use to connect what is being taught in schools to their surrounding communities, including local institutions, history, literature, cultural heritage, and natural environments. Community-based learning is also motivated by the belief that all communities have intrinsic educational assets and resources that educators can use to enhance learning experiences for students.
The idea that humans are social learners and therefore perform better when learning collaboratively was put forward by Lev Vygotsky. It has since become a crucial expect of education. Studies also prove that a communal learning environment is more beneficial for students and also instructors/institutions.
When studying with and along with a community of like-minded peers, one develops a deep sense of respect and 'giving back'. Learning then no longer remains a solitary task for solitary gain but rather something with which an entire group of people favors.
Below is an experiential learning continuum. On left is the service we do as citizens and towards the right is the service we do as professionals. It provides an easy and quick understanding of how community-based learning works.
Benefits of community-based learning
Higher retention rate
Back in school, teachers would often request students to break into groups for discussion or pair-work. As a result, they would be more enthusiastic about their assignments and finish them earlier. Contrary to our parents' perception that group study is merely a tactic for us to hang around with friends, it actually works!
Research proves that there is a significant correlation between retention rate and community learning. That is because when learning together people are a lot more focused and engage with the content in multiple ways. Not only do they gather the information plainly but simultaneously analyze it and devise possible solutions for the queries.
Learn with like-minded peers
A given advantage of CBL is the opportunity to interact meaningfully with other individuals. This active engagement enables learners to acquire key social skills vital for professional advancement. Not to forget, social interaction also means the exchange of ideas i.e. learners gain a wider perspective that they cannot gain on their own. And as the educator, Stephen Brookfield, says that peer groups act as filters that check our assumptions and perspectives.
Build strong networks
With CBL people get the rare opportunity to build strong and supportive relations and networks. Having reliable associations and bonds is crucial for having a strong professional footing. Not only that, these networks act as your family in a way and help you through thick and thin. This is why several CBL is now focusing on creating alumni associations that bring together all the course graduates under one camp and allows them to interact and help each other.
How to apply community-based learning in online learning?
Analyze the course content
CBL is a niche in itself. To think that you can make little tweaks to your regular online course and make it run successfully, is frankly, wishful thinking. Besides, not every discipline is CBL complaint, some work best asynchronous courses. This is why firstly analyze the content of your course. Jot down your expectations and that of your prospective students. Keep them in mind when designing the course curriculum as they act as your goals.
Incorporate community-based learning strategies
Just like you cannot make lemonade without lemons, you cannot make a community-based course without using CBL strategies. Below are my top picks for the strategies that will truly transform your course.
- Project-based learning: This particular technique requires that the instructor assign projects or tasks to a group of learners which they have to complete collaboratively. Instructor is available for assistance, however, it requires students to independently solve problems.
- Online discussion forums: These forums are like chat threads where participants post anything to everything relating to the course. Got a query? Need to make an announcement? Got an opinion? Simply post and others will respond to it there and then. It makes it a quick and fun way to interact and learn.
- Peer review: As the name suggests, it is a popular strategy where fellow class-mates come together and give their review or remarks on your assignments. It is a great way to develop independent critical thinking and assessment skills in students.
If you wish to learn more about community-based learning strategies follow this link:👉🏽 10 collaborative learning strategies for online teachers👈🏽.
Create alumni networks
A primary purpose of CBL is to help establish lasting and reliable relationships. Classroom engagement is likely not sufficient for this. To build a community, we need to reel people in from all various departments. This is why it is absolutely necessary that as a CBL course creator you also build an alumni network for all your old and new students to interact.
Find a reliable LMS
You'd think it is difficult to find reliable partners in this age. Ask online course creators, they'd say finding a reliable LMS is harder. Joke aside, LMS is the very foundation upon which your learning career rests.
For CBL, you require a special kind of LMS that specifically caters to cohort-based courses. Why is that? Because the premise of community-based learning is to bring together a close-knit group of learners where they interact in real-time, and that is only possible with a platform like Teachfloor.
Not only is Teachfloor a specially designed LMS for cohort-based courses but it also is perfect for community-based learning given its wide variety of CBL features. From Discussion Boards to Peer Review to Zoom Integration, the place has everything a CBL course creator could ask for. Don't take my word for it, try it out for yourself!
The role of alumni networks in online learning
Besides just building networks, alumni associations also help spread the word about your online course business and build your reputation. It is a quick and cheaper way of marketing your brand. Moreover, once in a while you can invite some of your alumni for special talks and host quality career orientation seminars. Alumni networks also act as testimonial channels for your courses. Where former students can share their experience and let others know what to expect from your courses.
With an alumni network, you have the opportunity to expand your boundaries much further. A great example is a mentor-mentee program. By starting such a program you will be able to connect experts with newcomers who will not only guide them through the course but will also provide key tips for career advancements.
A piece of advice: whether your course is asynchronous or synchronous, it definitely won't hurt to have an alumni network 😉.