Development of an Asynchronous Community

Though the social relationships integral to group learning can be developed through asynchronous communication, this development tends to take longer than in traditional, face-to-face settings. The establishment of an asynchronous community takes time and effort and tends to follow a projected course of five stages, as described by Waltonen-Moore et al.:

    Introductions- This might include a full biography or a short "getting-to-know" you series of questions. Through this step, community members begin to see one another as human beings and begin to make a preliminary, emotive connection with the other members of the community. This step is often characterized by emotive or extravagant language and represents group members' attempts to make themselves known as living individuals behind the emotionless technology medium.
    Identify with the group- Members begin to communicate with one another by reference to their commonalities as group members and seek to either establish or make known norms for successful membership. If this sense of group identity is not established, the likelihood of poor participation or attrition increases.
    Interact- Members will start interacting with one another in reference to the community's established focus and begin to share information with one another. If the community is an online learning course, then students will begin to discuss course content.
    Group cohesion and individual reflection- members of the group will begin to validate one anothers' ideas and opinions while, at the same time, being reflective of their own.
    Expansive questioning- Now feeling completely comfortable within the environment, focused upon the content, and respectful of other group members' thoughts and experiences, members will begin to not only post facts and deeply-held beliefs, but will actually start to 'think out loud,' allowing other group members to take part in their personal meaning-making and self-directed inquiry.

Asynchronous communities that progress efficiently through these stages tend to share at least three common attributes:

First, the community has an active facilitator who monitors, guides, and nurtures the discourse. Unguided communities tend to have difficulty progressing beyond the second stage of development, because group members can become distracted from the community's intended purpose.

Second, rather than seeking to take on the role of an instructor or disseminator of knowledge, the facilitator recognizes that knowledge is an individual construct that is developed through interaction with other group members. Thus, facilitators within successful communities tend not to be pedantic, but supportive.

And third, successful asynchronous communities permit a certain amount of leniency for play within their discourse. That is, communities that insist upon being overly stringent on etiquette and make no room for the social development that comes from play seem to drive away participants. Rather than enriching discourse on the targeted topic, such attitudes have a negative impact on group identity development and individual comfort levels which will, in turn, decrease overall involvement.