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Choosing online learning communities or collaborative learning
The adoption and innovative use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) technology can have positive outcomes for regional development (Ashford, 1999; Harris, 1999; Mitchell, 2003). Especially when it involves the use of online environments, CMC can lead to what Gillespie, Richardson, and Cornford (2001) refer to as the "death of distance," and is likely to boost opportunities for growth in e-commerce, e-business, and e-learning in the regions. Although such growth depends on continuous learning and innovation (Rainnie, 2002), actual opportunities for learning and training can be affected by approaches to the provision of online learning that are unnecessarily rigid and inflexible. Online education and training methods that include strict participation requirements can have the effect of marginalizing and excluding those learners who cannot engage with inflexible and regimented learning contexts. This represents an important problem in regions, because of limited access to other learning contexts.This article focuses on one major reason given by educators who employ mandatory learner participation in online learning contexts: the notion that individuals learn more effectively when they become members of online "communities." We critique this notion, and we hold that the concept of "community" is more of an ideological, rather than a practical, one. Indeed, it is hard to see how effective online learning must require membership to an online community, and it becomes even more unclear how mandatory online participation and interaction promotes learning. In the event, the notion of a "community of learners" is awkward when attempting to describe an online learning environment that facilitates (rather than mandates) participation and interactivity. Rather, when participation takes place on learners' own terms, then we might describe the learning context as a collaborative online learning environment.