Research & Consulting: Digital Learning and Work

Democratizing digital learning: Theorizing the Fully Online Learning Community model
April 15, 2021

Democratizing digital learning: Theorizing the Fully Online Learning Community model

How might digital educators address the demand for graduates who are, digital competent, collaborative problem-solvers, and deliberative citizens? This study theorises the Fully Online Learning Community (FOLC) model as a target activity model. Extending and critically adapting the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, FOLC emphasises technology experimentation, collaborative knowledge-building and negotiated assessment. Moreover, it foregrounds collaborative learning processes that reduce the transactional distance between students and teachers. In-deed, it calls for an active redistribution of educational control, creating pathways for greater learner experimentation and resource selection. In short, this study theorises an original approach to fully online learning in the tradition of collaborative constructivism.


Blayone, T., vanOostveen, R., Barber, W., DiGiuseppe, M., & Childs, E. (2017). Democratizing digital learning: Theorizing the Fully Online Learning Community model. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(13), 1-16.


The integration of digital technologies at institutions of higher education are profoundly influencing formal learning on a global scale. Social-constructivist models of fully online learning are well-positioned to address the demands of government, and economic and social-development organizations for civically-engaged individuals with strong problem-solving, critical-thinking and collaboration competencies. With an established record of performance at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Canada, the Fully Online Learning Community (FOLC) is one such model.

This paper theorizes FOLC as a response to several problematics, including (a) the aforementioned demand for greater educational focus on higher-order competency development, (b) the deficiencies of distance education and MOOCs as learning models, and (c) a quest for new learning models that strengthen deliberation skills and deepen democratic experience. As a divergent fork of the Community of Inquiry model, FOLC describes collaborative learning as a symbiosis of social and cognitive interactions amplified through effective use of synchronous and asynchronous digital affordances. Furthermore, it models democratized learning communities that reduce transactional distance between learners and educators, incorporates authentic assessment, and encourages negotiated technology affordances and cognitive outcomes while distributing responsibility for constructive criticality.

Having positioned FOLC conceptually, and addressed current limitations, a research agenda for extending its empirical foundations, and leveraging UOIT’s EILAB affordances, is presented. The underlying argument is that self-regulating and transformative learning communities can be established and sustained in fully online environments, and that such communities (a) produce a diversity of beneficial learning outcomes, and (b) deepen the democratic functioning of learners and their social contexts.


Online learning E-learning Collaborative learning Fully online learning community model Problem-based learning Learning and democracy Social constructivist learning Community of inquiry Digital learning model


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