Online Learning Communities

  • How do online learning communities significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses?

An online learning community can be closely compared to a learning community in a traditional brick and mortar school environment or even to a workplace learning environment. In all three instances, everyone involved – students and teachers, come together to work towards a single goal which is to develop greater knowledge and understanding. “A learning community in a face-to-face environment often develops spontaneously as students have more opportunities to get to know one another and develop friendships outside of a particular course” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 38). It is more challenging to build an online learning community in a distance learning environment. In all three environments, students learn by exploring content together and interacting with each other to develop their own understanding of the content and its objectives and how it can be applied in real world situations. Online environments make this harder often times because there is no face to face interaction.

  • What are the essential elements of online community building?

The five elements of online community building are: people, purpose, process, interaction and presence. Students create knowledge by doing – not listening to lecture after lecture and memorizing just enough to pass a test. Mastery comes from students reflecting back on what they have learned and putting it into practice. “The online learning community is part of what makes learning happen for many students” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 40).

  • How can online learning communities be sustained?

Online learning communities can only be sustained if there is participant engagement and responsibility taking place in the community. Blogs, discussion questions, and reading assignments are all areas where learners can communicate about work and learning. Guidelines should be in place to give learners instructions/timelines on how and when to communicate. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to interact with the students and guide the discussion.

  • What is the relationship between community building and effective online instruction?

The atmosphere in an online instruction environment should be as close to a community building as possible meaning that it should be welcoming to the students and if at all possible personalized to the needs of the students involved. For many older students, the online setting can come across as being confusing and difficult to manage, therefore it is important that the instructor be available to answer questions and guide them for the first few weeks so they don’t become frustrated and give up. It is a good idea to set up a section just for questions that other participants as well as the teacher can respond to in a reasonable time period. Being online, not everyone is going to be accessing the information at the same time and the student may just need a quick response that another student can give. Overall, in an online learning environment, the instructor/facilitator is responsible for establishing the appropriate climate.

Engaging learners and keeping them engaged is the key and it is something that does not happen on its own. “Planning and utilizing activities that assist a learner in moving through the developmental stages of engaged learning ensures that learners are involved, motivated, and able to interact and collaborate with one another” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 14).


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


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