This is one of the first empirical studies of distance education in Jewish education. By way of qualitative case study methodology, this research explored the learning experience of a group of adult learners participating in a Jewish education Master's degree program that is offered by way of videoconferencing technology.
A key finding was that the learning community constituted an informal learning context, fostering openness to new perspectives, appreciation of collaborative learning, and critically reflective thinking. The study sheds light on the unique cultural vestiges that enhance Jewish learners' shared spirit or desire for community, and their motivation and ability to create it in a distance learning program, as well as on what facilitates and/or hinders learning.
The principle recommendation was that to enhance learning, educators in videoconferencing programs should work toward making the learning community a visible entity, and should facilitate collaborative learning opportunities for students both within and across learning sites. Creating opportunities for sharing ideas, knowledge, and information at all levels will build appreciation of a culture of shared learning.
A number of specific recommendations for teachers in distance learning programs were made:
• Help formulate and establish group norms.
• Provide opportunities for student interaction both within and between sites.
• Provide ongoing opportunities for critical thinking and reflection.
The researcher recommended that further studies be conducted that explore learning communities within the Jewish distance education context which will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the learning experiences of adults in this emergent context.