Affinity Groups in Self-paced Online Learning

Affinity group:
“as a sympathy marked by community of interest”.
(Webster dictionary)

Terry Anderson has an entry in his blog “Virtual Canuk”, on February 25, 2006, entitled Affinity Groups in Self-paced Online Learning, where he says that affinity groups popularized in informal learning may be an inspiration for developing, supporting and consequently measuring the impact of social support in educational context. He believes that “online affinity group provides a useful model that we can use and support to increase participation in and successful completion of self-paced, formal online courses.” The article aims to expose the way how self-paced learning can be too a mechanism to explore and develop that “sympathy” with others.

After examining the literature on collaborative and cooperative learning, he sees that affinity groups are both pedagogically useful and generally appreciated by learners. However, he says that members of affinity groups share interest and expectation to be working cooperatively on a common task, which doesn’t mean they seek for socialization. Affinity groups should be allowed to flow across tasks, activities and structures of the complete learning experience. So, he warns that learning designers need to create meaningful activities that respect learners’ limited resource of time.

Finally, Anderson argues that some organizational interventions must be taken (he suggests several in the article), because affinity groups may not “suddenly and spontaneously emerge from education models and systems based upon independent study assumptions.”

Considering that formal learning in any environment is complicated, the author concludes that only through systematic investigation of the variables discussed in the article, using a variety of methodologies, “will we begin to find proven ways to create, sustain and benefit from affinity groups in self-paced, networked learning”.


(retrieved October 20, 2009)

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