One of the main criticisms of online learning enviroments is the feeling of isolation reported by students and instructors. When students who have taken all their previous courses in a traditional setting switch to an online setting they are exposed to the feeling of lack of peer-to-peer interaction, especially when the online course does not promote it.
Even though there is a plethora of online technologies that allow interaction and collaboration among students, these technologies might not be effective when they are not applied appropriately. For instance, Lee et al. (2006) identify different interactive technologies and report that communication technologies such as email or voice-over-IP are the easiest to use but at the same time they are very limited in promoting teamwork. Thus assigning projects in which the only communication technology is email might not be sufficient for effectively facilitating learning.
Cooperative technologies, according to Lee et al. (2006) include online forums and blogs in which students have some time to reflect upon the content being covered and to elaborate about it. In addition, synchronous technologies such as chats and videoconferencing tools which allow multiple team members to communicate in real time have the potential to promote social cohesion and provide the opportunity to give and receive immediate feedback. For this reason, Park and Bonk (2007) suggest that it is critical to acquire the skills and practical strategies in using both asynchronous and synchronous modes for online learning.
In spite of the multiple current Web 2.0 tools that facilitate peer-to-peer interaction, they might be ineffective if students do not know or not have the skills to work as a team. Instructors should not expect that just by making groups of students and providing them the communication technology they will work and learn effectively as a team. Instead, instructor should consider applying elements of cooperative and collaborative learning, such as group size, group heterogeneity, positive interdependence, group skills, individual accountability, team incentives, social cohesion, etc.
Park, Y. J., & Bonk, C. J. (2007). Is life a Breeze?: A case study for promoting synchronous learning in a blended graduate course.
Lee, S. H., Magjuka, R. J., Liu, X., Bonk, C. J. (2006, June). Interactive technologies for effective collaborative learning.