An online community is a virtual community that exists online and whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership ritual.
Online communities started in the mid 1970s. The central systems of these communities are: Listservers, e-mail, and bulletin boards. Then the chat systems (chat room) in 1988. The real online communities began to take place with the emergence of technologies in the mid to late 90s.
There are two types of virtual online communities. Dependent Self-sustained
Dependent The dependent VOCs are those who use the virtual community as extensions of themselves. They interact with people they know. Self-Sustained Self-sustained VOCs are communities where relationships between participating members is formed and maintained through virtual encounters in the online community.
Advantages Flexibility: accessible 24×7, any place as long as you have an internet connection Leveling: reserved people who usually don’t speak up can say as much as they like while “loud” people are just another voice and can’t interrupt. Documented: unlike verbal conversation, online discussion is lasting and can be revisited. Encourages reflection: participants don’t have to contribute until they’ve thought about the issue and feel ready.
Advantages Relevance: provides a place for real life examples and experience to be exchanged. Choice: a quick question or comment, or a long reflective account are equally possible. Community: over time can develop into a supportive, stimulating community which participants come to regard as the high point of their course. Limitless: you can never predict where the discussion will go; the unexpected often results in increased incidental learning.
Disadvantages Text-based: Predominantly relies on inputting text which can be challenging for those who don’t like to write or have poor keyboard skills, but with the advance of broadband connectivity and voice and video conference technology – this will be less of an issue. No physical cues: without facial expressions and gestures or the ability to retract immediately there’s a big risk of misunderstanding. Information overload: a large volume of messages can be overwhelming and hard to follow, even stress-inducing.
Disadvantages Threads: logical sequence of discussion is often broken by users not sticking to the topic (thread). Time lag: even if you log on daily, 24 hours can seem like a long. Inefficient: it takes longer than verbal conversation and so it’s hard to reply to all the points in a message, easily leaving questions unanswered. Isolation: some learners prefer to learn on their own and don’t participate in the discussions. Directionless: participants used to having a teacher or instructor telling them what to do can find it a leaderless environment.
There are one billion posts per day made on Facebook. The average user spends nearly 7 hours per month on the social networking site. Among Facebook marketers, 64% have used Facebook Events to inform fans about online or offline events, making this a far more widespread tool than display ads and targeted posts. 90% of small businesses are on Facebook, and roughly two-thirds post more than once per week. Facebook grew 18% in 2012 and accounted for more than half of all social content sharing.
There are 400 million tweets per day on Twitter. A million new Twitter accounts are opened each day. The average user spends nearly and hour and a half on the site each month. Twitter now has more than 500 million users worldwide, including more than 100 million in the U.S. Twitter’s second-largest user base is in Brazil. Twitter grew 55% in 2012 and accounted for 15% of all social content sharing. 42% of companies have acquired at least one customer through Twitter.
With the growth of online courses and computer-mediated distance education, administrators and faculty are asking tough questions about online students' need for social interaction and belonging. Another important distinction is how these communities define their goals and objectives. Some of the obvious differences of educational communities are; members share a specific purpose, which is to gain knowledge, understanding, enrichment, certification, etc. Depending on the type of institution and program, the online class may be very homogenous in terms of age, income level, and other psychographics. Although, online educational communities are facilitating educationin different ways, They require high proficiency in technology literacy for both students and instructors.