Building learning communities is an important aspect of online education. Research shows that having a social presence and feeling a sense of community influence online student outcomes as well as their satisfaction with the course and learning environment (Gray & DiLoreto, 2016). Feeling connected to their instructors and knowing that they are easily accessible has been shown to have a positive influence on student satisfaction. Also, studies show that students fared better when they had a social presence in an online community during the course (Richardson & Swan, 2003).
Educators can build effective online learning communities by providing a safe setting where students can interact and collaborate with one another and their instructors. In their book “Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for The Virtual Classroom,” Drs. Palloff and Pratt (2007) outline several strategies that are essential for building and sustaining an online setting where students and instructors can interact and maintain a social presence. A few practical things to consider when building and sustaining a learning community are time, group size, and security.
Time relates to the amount of time both students and instructors will need to dedicate to participation. Synchronous and asynchronous courses will require different time commitments. It is also important to remember that students who participate in fully asynchronous online courses often do so because they have limited time. Therefore, course design needs to balance the need for participation with how much time commitment to require. Instructors also have time constraints related to the number of students in the course, their workload, and other commitments. Consequently, to be effective, requirements for online participation cannot overburden students or instructors (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, pgs. 67-81).
Group size is important because studies have shown that it is easier and more effective to build a sense of community with smaller groups. Therefore, dividing a large student population in a course into smaller discussion groups is an efficient way to create rapport between online students and maintain the community interaction (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, pgs. 81-84).
Security is an essential part of any setting, and online learning communities are no exception. A set of rules and engagement guidelines should be given to students and agreed upon for participation in the online discussion. Instructors must monitor posts and comments to ensure appropriateness and address concerns privately with perpetrators. Students should be allowed to express their ideas and opinions freely as long as the discussion remains courteous and constructive (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, pgs. 87-88).
Online learning is quickly becoming a major way to get training and education. As technology improves methods of delivery, this trend is only bound to increase and with it the need for educators to build effective learning communities to improve student outcomes. Thus, we must get educated on how to create and sustain successful online learning environments.
Gray, J. and DiLoreto, M. (2016). The effects of student engagements, student satisfaction, and perceived learning in online learning environments. NCPEA International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 11(1). Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1103654.pdf
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from: Walden University.
Palloff, R. M. and Pratt, K. (2007). Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA.
Richardson, J. C. and Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), 7(1). Retrieved from: onlinelearningconsortium.org/sites/default/files/v7n1_richardson_1.pdf