Features of Successful Online Learning Environments

No matter whether examining your personal learning network, PLN, or a learning management system, LMS, the online learning environment probably has these features if it is successful.


The discussions of educators on social media networks should be the model for many other industries. The respectful back and forth of healthy questionings models how discussions should be handled professionally. The irony of course is that many of these interactions occur in an online learning environment which is outside educator’s daily work, mostly on Twitter. This is a disruption to the normally regional, mostly local, resourcing which teachers have utilized for hundreds of years.

Caring; discussions need to demonstrate caring. Basic discussions for teachers follow the guidelines that everyone has something to contribute and to learn in every conversation, every topic. Basic discussions for students need to imply the same level of care and security to be successful. Depending on the age of the student, the online learning environment is more likely to be a closed discussion, such as inside an LMS. While this limits the numbers of interlopers, this elevates the need for discussion from within the group of a positive and caring nature. Working up to discussions through in class lessons on: posting and responding in a positive way, how online responses vary from face-to-face responses, and many examples of friendly ways to disagree with another are all necessary.

Democratic; discussions can be respectful and caring, but the point of discussion is to narrow in on ideas worth spreading. In a democratic discussion, everyone is able to contribute and be heard. THat does not mean every thought shared is of the same quality. Ideally, the best ideas are identified by a majority of the group and then rise to the top. If this is not happening a change in the discussion parameters should be considered.

Produce Something Products

Ideas are products as well as creative works that participants in a successful online learning environment create.

The evolution of ideas is often a product of a quality discussion. That discussion may be with others or oneself. An idea can be converted to a product in multiple ways: blog posts or articles, proposals to present/author, generative interactions like a Twitter chat. The discussion, or presentation, or article itself is not the end of the production in this case as those products often inspire others to produce in reaction to them.

A product can also be encouraged by a well worded invitation within an online learning environment to create. The environment itself cannot be the limitation of the creative product, just the conduit, just a platform for sharing. The craft of the facilitator is paramount, how to invite wide-ranging ideas while keeping participants within reach of grasping each other’s context?

Any successful online learning environment is going to encourage the widest range of products and accept any format imaginable.

News Current TrendsTrending Topics

Content freshness is a component of appeal to all learners, trends in a wide variety of facets of our lives from pop culture to pedagogy/andragogy can all contribute to the freshness of our content we share in online learning environments. Current trends can be a new way of looking at persistent challenges, pop-cultures revision cycle so to say. Designers of successful online learning environments need to incorporate new formats, media, color schemes, topics into the main topic of interest to the participant. A hashtagged world expects nothing less.

New perspectives from participants is the most readily available source of these new perspectives. If current content is desired, crowdsourcing is an attractive alternative to sole-sourced content.

All these features of successful online learning environments overcome isolation, increase connectedness, and harness a group dynamic to accelerate ideas which otherwise might starve if isolated.
What features would you add to this list?