We are two weeks into the course "Foundations of Communities of Practices" by CP Square. The course is 100% online, including all reading materials. My online learning experience until this course included an online support forum provided during my MBA by the British OU, and a course by Imark. For the OU, all the reading material was sent out to me in print. I considered their web space called "FirstClass" as a very secondary source. I used to only go there just before assignments or exams, to check if anything useful had been posted.
Imark is a recently developed course on knowledge management (supported by FAO), which I discovered on the Internet. I did the first module and found it very useful, well-paced and good quality. Although I knew part of it already, it was good to learn about xml, html and using some very basic markup as well. And it´s free! I´m planning to do the networks- module, too.
Still, this CoP course is very different. It has the feel of a real, meaning life, course. I feel drawn in, I feel I am getting to know my co-learners. I keep going back to the web space, to look at what others have posted. The group, of some 25 people, has been grouped in households where we can chat in the kitchen and receive guests (others from the group) at the front porch. We are also seated at conversation tables, where we bring in our topics to discuss. In this large group, within a week, an atmosphere of inquiry, of joint learning, has evolved. I guess that is the most important difference with the other e-learning experiences I had: here, we have formed a community. We are discussing a-asynchronous (meaning you can post/add to a discussion on the moments that suit you), but we are learning synchronously, during these seven weeks.
Beforehand, I never could have guessed that having a learning community would be so determining for course quality. Actually, I have often enjoyed being a solitary learner, going my own pace and not have someone in the community "hit the brakes" all the time.
An important point is the enormous experience and quality of the other participants. I myself am relatively new to CoPs but long familiar with a "knowledge perspective". Before deciding to take this course I was critically assessing its usefulness, and I did not want to end up in a course with complete beginners. Well, I can tell you I didn´t. In hindsight I am even a bit embarrassed as many of the other participants have a lot of experience. I am also surprised: how come that this course attracted, almost without exception, people who are so experienced?