Fully Online Learning Community (FOLC) Model
The Fully Online Learning Community (FOLC) model is a framework authored by Dr. Roland van Oostveen, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Canada, for conceptualizing, designing and researching, collaborative online learning in higher education. A social-constructivist model, based on a decade of research and praxis at UOIT, FOLC incorporates problem- and inquiry-based learning. Facets of other key models such as the General Technology Competency and Use, Community of Inquiry, Community of Practice, Transactional Distance and the Teaching Learning Paradigm are also incorporated. Perhaps most importantly, FOLC conceptualizes the teaching function as one of social and cognitive empowerment, and encourages collaboratively negotiated learning outcomes shaped by the goals, experience, culture and values of the community itself. In this way, FOLC pursues the democratization of education at the level of “the learner,” and positions “learning” as both a fundamental human characteristic and a human right.
[Keywords: online learning, problem-based learning, learning community, democratized learning, transformative online learning, cognitive presence, social presence]
The Fully Online Learning Community (FOLC) model has been developing through research and praxis at UOIT, Canada in a variety of programs (Educational Studies and Digital Technologies, Allied Health, and Masters of Education) for more than a decade. Incorporating a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) orientation, FOLC serves as a foundation for courses in several fully online programs, employing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication environments. Today, FOLC represents a significant modification of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model, and is intended to operate within the Social and Cognitive Presence spaces (see diagram above) to: (a) reduce transactional distance, and (b) simultaneously incorporate newcomers into the established learning community.
Within a FOLC-based environment, all participants collaboratively function as co-creators of the learning environment: the Digital Space. The professional instructor often initiates the problem-based- or inquiry-learning process by publishing “real world” situations or contexts online as modified Problem-Based Learning Objects (PBLOs). Participants use these videos to identify and create ill-structured problems. They prepare thoughts and questions (Cognitive Presence), and bring them to hour-long, facilitated, audio-video conferencing sessions. Acting initially as facilitators, instructors and teaching assistants often begin the learning process by eliciting preconceived notions from participants about the problems/ideas identified as relevant to them. The instructors and assistants build rapport and trust so as to challenge pre-conceptions effectively (Social Presence). In this way, they encourage processes of critical thinking and strive to cede control of the learning process to the community. Over time, the community builds processes of collaborative regulation and critical discourse focused on constructing unique, innovative solutions to relevant problems.
FOUR DIMENSIONS OF FULLY ONLINE LEARNING COMMUNITIES
Social Presence – is the degree of awareness, feeling, perception, and reaction to another person in an interactive online setting (Tu & McIsaac, 2002), implying greater fidelity and more genuine interactions that allow for the building of social relationships and the equitable, fluid distribution of community rights and responsibilities.
Cognitive Presence – is a “thoughtful, reflective and analytic” (Dannels, 2016) process that directs the quality and quantity of critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving, and construction of meaning that occurs during community member interactions.
Collaborative Learning – is the construction of shared understandings based on conversations, concepts, real-world problems, and experiences (Roschelle,1992) resulting in changes in meta-cognitve patterns. Interaction and interdependence while working within small groups are the primary foci of the activities undertaken.
Digital Space – is a co-created virtual environment within which information and resources are shared through the selection and use of a set of open technological tools.
OPERATIONALIZATION OF THE FULLY ONLINE LEARNING COMMUNITY MODEL
Starting in 2017, the FOLC has been operationalized through a validated self-report instrument that parallels the structure of the DCP (see https://eilab.ca/general-technology-competency-use/). This instrument now forms the basis of the Fully Online Learning Community Survey (FOLCS). Although there are a number of studies incorporating the FOLCS, none have yet reported on its efficacy. The FOLCS has been integrated into the customizable Global Readiness Explorer (GREx) as one of the main instruments designed to explore learning in fully online environments.
SELF-REPORT INSTRUMENT AND THE FULLY ONLINE LEARNING COMMUNITY SURVEY (FOLCS)
This instrument was initially designed to encourage higher education learners to critically examine their readiness to work within Fully Online Learning Community environments. Like the DCP, the FOLCS consists of 26 categorized activity items (five for the digital space, and seven each for social presence, cognitive presence and collaborative learning), each with two measures: frequency of use and confidence of use, conceptualized as twin, synergistic indicators of fully online learning environment competence.
Frequency of use is considered an important general indicator of competency on the assumption that transferable procedural knowledge, and in many cases, accompanying higher-order abilities. Confidence of use, a self-concept addressing one’s capabilities to select and execute courses of action, is directly aligned with self-efficacy. As such, it is considered an important predictor, not necessarily of acquired ability, but rather of an individual’s willingness to pursue new activities, positively address challenges that occur, and extend abilities already acquired.
Operationalization of the FOLC continues to develop, and in 2020, the survey instrument served as a basis for the EILAB’s Fully Online Learning Community Survey (FOLCS), a robust, online application for generating and comparing fully online environment profiles of individuals and groups. As a persistent database, the FOLCS is also poised to facilitate cross-contextual and longitudinal studies. The FOLCS is licensed under Creative Commons (Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International — CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) and is available free of charge to research partners through data-sharing and collaborative analysis agreements.
Sample Profile Generated by the Fully Online Learning Community Survey
Zotero Collection: FOLC Feature Page
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