Learning and teaching in a virtual learning environment – the importance of community building and collaboration Marko Radovan and Nina Kristl
Summary: Modern teaching in higher education, which include the integration of ICT in the study process or the relocation of a specific part of the study activities to online, i.e. virtual learning environments are no longer uncommon in the Slovenian higher education. The reasons for this are different, and teachers substantiate them primarily by improving the quality of the teaching process, motivating students, and improving student outcomes. Research into virtual communities and the processes of developing these communities in virtual learning environments is a relatively new area of research in HE. The beginnings of a more systematic examination of the area go back to the 90s and mostly dealt the concept of social presence in the virtual environment and its influence on learning processes and outcomes (Gunawardena in Zittle 1997). The findings of these and other studies confirm the assumption that the key to successful learning in virtual learning environments is developing effective (learning) communities. In this article, the theory of the Community of Inquiry (CoI), developed in 1999 by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000), will be presented as one of the most famous models for understanding learning in the virtual environment. The CoI model assumes that effective communication in a virtual environment is not merely a consequence of the working of cognitive factors and the teacher’s interventions; instead, the social aspect is equally important, which means that effective e-education requires the existence of a community. In this article, we will focus on the characteristics of virtual learning environments, their advantages and weaknesses and try to formulate an answer to the question whether the CoI model could be employed as a method to encourage collaborative learning in the virtual learning environment and describe the determinants that enable such learning.