I took an online learning class about 8 years ago and decided then that I could do it, but I didn't feel connected to the people in my class or the material. Technically there was an online conversation of some sort, but it was graded on how many times you logged in, and not the quality of conversation that took place. It was also a one off course not connected to a program and I had no idea who was taking it or why.
In Provincial Instructor Diploma Program I am currently taking my 3rd course online. I have done one in person. I have enjoyed both ways of learning for vary different reasons. the PIDP 3100 course was quite independent. We were encouraged to chat on a coffee room forum, but this was a rotating entry type course so we didn't get to know each other too well. That said I was a lurker...I looked back at questions posted, saw conversations about their blogs and checked them out to gain a better understanding of how everything worked. I really appreciated this forum, but couldn't connect with the past users so simply hope they know how awesome they were for supporting future folks.
Fast forward to 3240... this is online learning intensified. Everyone was extremely active on the forum, we had a chance to do a video call with many classmates to kick things off, and I really felt like I got to know some of my peers. I felt connected.
So the difference came down to our Social Presence online. The building of profiles, the sharing of backgrounds when we wrote comments or shared opinions. It was also shared through the online projects and our blogs. Not only were we responsible for creating our own blog and projects, we were responsible for checking out others. This requirement was a way to really invest into our learning via feeling connected to others in the course. I wanted to do my best... after all it wasn't just for me and my teacher, but also for many others to see.
Using this technique built the confidence I needed to share these projects and blogs with my colleagues right across the country and then train them on some of the web 2.0 software I learned about and more.
As I look forward to building online courses with our organization, I now know the value that needs to be placed on building social presence in order for the learning to be successful.
Here's a great article I found on social presence via online profiles and it's impact.