Evaluating Virtual Learning Communities using a Nonlinear Model

L.H.L. Araújo, G.J. Lucena Filho, and M. Losada (Brazil)


Meta Learning, distance education, virtual learning communities, discussion forums, knowledge construction


Distance education (DE) used as a learning tool has significantly increased over the last years, even in the business corporative area, offering employees the opportunity to study in any place and moment they consider appropriate. A common practice in DE is the use of asynchronous meetings, in particular discussion forums. This paper presents the results of an academic research which purpose was to evaluate the effectiveness of this kind of practice in knowledge construction, and also evaluate conversational competencies necessary to promote qualitative and quantitative interactions within the forums. Considering the inquiry of some authors regarding the efficiency of current evaluation methods, based on subjectivity and/or linear metrics, a distinct evaluation method for discussion forums is presented, based on nonlinear dynamical systems theory. In this study, the Meta Learning model - previously applied to presence team meetings – that associates team performance to its positive to negative interactions ratio was tested in discussion forums of a distance learning course in order to verify whether the same parameters could be used in a virtual environment. The results presented a positive correlation between positivity/negativity ratio and knowledge construction, which was not observed when using linear metrics; therefore, demonstrating the efficiency of a non-linear model to evaluate virtual learning communities (VLC).

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