In a learning community, instructors and students work together systematically toward shared academic goals. Collaboration is stressed, and competition is deemphasized. The instructor's primary role shifts from delivering content to setting up learning environments and serving as coach, expert guide, and role model for learners. The student's role changes as well, from relatively passive observer of teaching and consumer of information to active co-constructor of knowledge and understanding [2,10,28].
There are three major issues in the online support of a learning community: how to support various communication channels including one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many, how to find other people that share similar interests, and how to visualize and share common contexts. Active support using agent technology based on interaction between software agents and between humans and software agents is necessary in addressing these issues .
The learning community enabled by IDEAL contains a collection of personal units and course agents. A personal unit consists of a user and his or her personal agents. Each personal agent can acquire the user's profile and help the user by gathering, exchanging, and viewing information. The course agents provide shared information, knowledge, or contexts within the course community and act as mediators for informal communication among people. They can collect the user profiles and maintain information on the course community.