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Level Four:
Learning-to-Earn for Sustainable Communities

(The Power of Building Online Communities)

CONTEXT: This level of "Citizenship and Enlightened Expectations" presents the highest level of benefits, but is also the most difficult to understand, particularly without the direct hands-on experience of the previous levels.

Expectations increase with experience. As you gain experience using Internet collaborative tools, it soon becomes clear that there is incredible untapped potential for working together with others as a good citizen, both locally and globally.

We’re seeing many organizations using the web for advocacy for their cause and for activism to take organized action toward specific goals. A course in virtual activism is found at http://www.netaction.org/training and a database of activism websites is found at http://www.webactive.com . It is a fact, that transnational activism, working with others online globally to advocate a cause, such as human rights, is dramatically on the rise!

Involvement in the process of identifying emerging needs, and meeting those needs with genuine value and services, can be taught through a project-based approach to real community issues and problems. Due to the Internet's increasing efficiency and popularization, new opportunities with a global significance and reach are being continually created. One only has to look at those who are successfully providing services and products via the Internet to see why home-based businesses are flourishing.

With the very nature of work changing, as youth grow up, they will need to identify new processes for identifying emerging work opportunities in their communities. The jobs they will likely perform in the future may not exist today.

We’re already seeing many online businesses realizing the value of online collaboration and they are inventing new collaborative capabilities to enhance their web sites. Free Ecommerce web sites are now available to anyone! (Listed at http://lone-eagles.com/webdev.htm and

While the Internet itself can indeed be a window of unlimited opportunity, one must develop the capacity for envisioning that which is yet to come. These emerging trends are typically based on common sense application of the new capabilities to meet existing needs as the Internet evolves.

Lesson Goals

Keep the following general goals in mind as you work through hands-on exploration of the activities and resources presented in this lesson. A selection of the web resources referenced in this lesson is printed in the pages following the text of the lesson and elsewhere in this guide, particularly in Section Four.


  • Relate Mentoring Skills to Their Importance for Distance Learning
  • Relate Mentoring Skills to Community Networking Opportunities
  • Explore Mentoring, Ecommerce, and Community Networking Resources

Suggested Hands-on Learning Opportunities

1. Review the 'Mentoring Online' course at http://www.learner.org/courses/rfts/ Select "Lessons." Read the section on characteristics of adult learners.

2. Review tips on moderating online discussions and related mentoring resources at

3. Send your instructor a one-page write-up explaining three of your favorite resources and your thoughts about how you might use these resources.

4. Optional but recommended. Create your own
listserv and/or web conference at one of the sites offering these free collaborative capabilities listed at http://lone-eagles.com/webdev.htm Engage a small group in a purposeful online discussion and/or explore teaching specific skills.

The Vision

Online collaborative tools make it very easy to support others, even many others, with convenience and efficiency. Supporting others in a service economy is fundamental to successful Ecommerce. So is providing online training. Developing skills for creating and sustaining effective online relationships is vital at all levels. You'll learn more new strategies by reviewing the collaborative innovations of your competition.

Online Mentorship Key Issues

If instructional content is provided in a self-directed format, and an individual needs someone to motivate and monitor the instruction, this role does not necessarily have to be performed by a expert in the content area. An online mentor’s role is primarily to encourage, motivate, and monitor the individual’s learning, and can be performed adequately by a peer or someone without previous expertise in the content area.

There is no upward limitation of the degree of benefit a person can receive from a mentor who has Internet access and information retrieval skills. 

Research into just what online mentoring is, and can become, is a rapidly evolving area of interest, upon which the future of effective distance learning depends. Building learning communities around the theme of ongoing lifelong learning requires an approach more familial and social than the traditional educational disciplinarian approach. In today’s world, we can’t afford to let anyone fail due to lack of mentoring assistance, most certainly not in our own families! From a cultural standpoint, whom we support in this way defines who we are and what we believe in. Online support can indeed be warm, personal, and ongoing in ways many of us have never experienced, but will, and soon!

An online course titled "Mentoring Online" at http://www.learner.org/courses/rfts/ (select "Lessons") demonstrates a dual format for online courses allowing for both self-directed and mentored formats.

Distance Learning Key Issues

While the ten dominant Internet collaborative tools have great potential for providing distance learning services with great scalability and economy, these tools are so new that the general understanding of most people regarding the most effective teaching methods for each respective technology option is usually minimal. As a rule, if an individual is motivated to learn, and the instructional content is available in a self-directed format, great numbers of people can learn with minimal interaction with an instructor. This "self-directed learning" model demonstrates the greatest overall economies and scalability.

Individuals requiring an instructor to motivate and monitor their online learning will be faced with the very new experience of creating and sustaining a relationship through Internet collaborative tools. Measurement of the effectiveness of creating, sustaining, and growing a meaningful mentor-mentee, or citizen-to-citizen, relationship is still a largely unexplored frontier because the quality of a distance learning experience depends heavily on the level of trust of this very human relationship.

A. Review a Simple Community Mentoring Model

While reviewing the following alphabetical topical listing of volunteer mentors, think about how your community could benefit and what services you could offer for free or potentially for profit.

The Ask A+ Locator
An outstanding resource from the U.S. Dept. of Education. Dozens of sites welcoming emailed questions from teachers! A great model for a local mentoring program; simple and effective.

Review other Mentoring Models at http://lone-eagles.com/mentor.htm

B. Ecommerce and Community Networking

In the readings and links provided by the online course "Rural Ecommerce and Telework Strategies" you'll find many extensive listings of resources for both Ecommerce and community networking. Watch for references to collaborative services and tools. In short, we have more tools than we have the expertise to know how to use them optimally.

More and more Ecommerce possibilities relate back to the core limitation of the current skill level of potential customers. Tied to this is the tension of providing free training to support the public good, or being limited to providing training related directly to for-profit activities. The key point to keep in mind is that it is good business to support the social good in highly visible and effective ways. Watch your competition's web-based innovations to learn the advantages of this strategy.

More and more Ecommerce businesses will be exploring how to best train customers in the use of those collaborative tools which allow their businesses to provide better services. Providing customers with free web tools and training related to these services is becoming very competitive. You can see this trend with the My Yahoo Page services at http://yahoo.com and My Ebay page services at http://www.ebay.com. This is only the beginning!

Resources to Explore

Advanced Ecommerce Collaborative Tools
See the Unique Ecommerce Services section of
the Ecommerce Start-up Training Web Tour
While many of these services may first appear to be complex and overwhelming, watch for their application by other Ecommerce businesses to monitor those which are proving to be effective. Many businesses focus on providing services to make it as easy as possible for you to implement these tools efficiently.

Building Learning Communities Web Tour
An extensive listing including two online courses for educators. In addition, there are tips for grantwriting, tutorials, funding sources, and grant templates.

Community Internet Empowerment Resources
for Rural Idaho Communities
Extensive resources on developing community collaborative capacity

Community Networking Clearinghouse
The best ideas and resources from dozens of community networks and related organizations.

C. Review Guidelines for Effectively Moderating Online Discussions
and related mentoring resources at http://lone-eagles.com/curr4.htm This lesson "Online Collaboration to Support Online Instruction"  is from the graduate level course for educators "Designing K-12 Internet Instruction,"
http://lone-eagles.com/currmain1.htm offered by Alaska Pacific University.