“Engaged Learning in Online Communities”


The goal of this project is to plan and lay the groundwork for an NSF-supported Sciences of Learning Center (SLC) focused on engaged learning in online communities. This Center will generate, conduct and review research into fundamental scientific questions about the potentials of online communities to promote engaged learning. The Center will be a collaboratory for researchers in the US and abroad, allowing them to coordinate their work and maximize the impact of their findings in ways that presently do not exist.


Increasingly, learners are seeking out and engaging with other learners and with digital resources in online communities. Despite the exciting, open-ended potentials of engaged online learning, little is known today about what takes place when deep and engaged learning occurs in online communities, how group configurations and community structures matter, or how learning by online groups can be supported to develop over time.


This planning project brings together a core group of researchers from around the country who have begun to investigate aspects of engaged learning in online communities. Centered around four established online communities for supporting learning, it focuses on the engaged learning of mathematics and science. It also reaches out internationally to establish working relations with relevant research networks abroad.


Online learning has the potential to help overcome inequities of opportunity for learners. People can participate in online learning regardless of their geographic location, time constraints, gender, initial interest, self-confidence, minority status, age, disability, or skill levels. Support of engaged learning in online communities can take advantage of new media and technologies. It can incorporate formal and informal contexts, like schools, museums, games and hobbies.


Intellectual Merit: This Catalyst project brings together a critical mass of researchers from a spectrum of disciplines, each of whom have already made significant contributions to this timely area of the sciences of learning. The project is identifying detailed and rigorous methods to study the relations between cognitive and affective components of online learning at three levels of analysis: the individual, small group, and community. Such knowledge can help design new global learning opportunities for a broad spectrum of learners.


Broader Impacts: The world of the 21st century will involve technologically mediated spaces, where online lifelong learning will take place. Work-spaces, museums, schools, healthcare facilities, and other social institutions increasingly combine physical and virtual interactions. The work of this Catalyst and the SLC research agenda that it will define are essential to a world that increasingly involves computer-supported cooperative work and collaborative learning. The principles developed for mathematical and scientific learning can be explored and adjusted for other disciplines and new forms of

formal and informal learning within online communities.