Online learning communities are becoming increasingly popular. Almost everyone has a smartphone, tablet, or laptop these days, and can be connected to the internet 24 hours a day. This means that online learners are not confined to a school building, nor are they limited to certain times of the day or even times of the year when it comes to taking courses.
Community is important for both students and educators because it allows people who share interests to interact with each other on an ongoing basis. We want our community members to help one another succeed by sharing tips and tricks while also giving feedback on course content.
Online learning is also important for educators because it allows them to interact with students on an ongoing basis. Educators can get feedback from their learners, and connect with other community members who share similar interests. Community within the classroom helps everyone feel a sense of belonging, on the way to success!
In online learning communities, students are challenged to explore, think, research, innovate, and fully understand concepts in ways that cannot be emulated through individual studies. So it is imperative that if you are an educator that you build community into your instructional design & full course offering.
Archy Learning has put together a list of 6 different ways that you can build a successful community for your online learning environments.
- Establish yourself as the instructor
- Make announcements
- Encourage new students joining the class
- Encourage asking questions
- Create healthy discussions
- Promote Peer learning
Establish yourself as the Online Learning Instructor
When creating an online course, and building an online community, it is easy to simply send out email invites for interested parties to join, and then gradually answer any questions your students might have about your courses and their content.
However, online teaching requires that students have at least a sense of who their teacher and possible other members of the online faculty are in order to create a space where students feel comfortable sharing ideas and research with other students and teachers.
We recommend that you develop an introductory video message for the beginning of your online classes that will outline all of the course educators that will be involved in the students’ learning experiences throughout the course.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be full of personal stories to help humanise the teacher/teachers, it just needs to convey that even though you are teaching remotely, the online setting can still provide an effective learning experience full of new ideas, collaborative work, blended learning, study groups, breakout rooms, special events, and learning activities.
If you can clear expectations upfront with a message that you are there to help the students succeed in their online learning environment, you will create a sense of belonging that will help students engage with the online classroom community.
A quick example of an introductory video for your course content could be something like the following:
“Welcome to your online classroom! I am your teacher _____, and I am here to share my enthusiasm and knowledge about this course subject with all of you.
The course design lends itself towards creating a collaborative community to help develop better learning practices.
These learning experiences will come in the form of a discussion forum, group work, and other teaching strategies that will prove that online courses do not have to feel like a cold classroom.
If a student has any questions about the learning material, myself or one of the other teachers will address the online classroom with our answers in an effort to help as many students as possible while also building the online learning environment.”
After reinforcing that you and your fellow teachers are committed to creating a sense of community within your class, feel free to share some of your background and general interests, personalise it, and have fun! It will put your students at ease.
Announcements help gather attention and build rapport with your students. It makes you and other faculty members more active and involved instructors within the student learning process. Announcements can be made with social media messages, videos, emails, or message boards.
Announcements remind online learning communities about upcoming events and content that they should engage with. Have a special announcement section within your learning management system so that your students can access these notifications at any time, and stay up to date.
Encourage new students joining the class
Joining a digital classroom can seem daunting at first, with all the work that lay ahead for a student, so it is important that they are made to feel welcome and encouraged from the get-go.
So with that, we recommend you have an introductory section in your online learning community where any new student has the opportunity to introduce themselves and maybe give a fun fact, or some background on why they first signed up for the course.
We all know that these discussions, while rarely appreciated at the time, actually help break the ice for a new student and will help them ease in and connect with the classroom, as well as feel comfortable reaching out and collaborating with others later on.
This also helps you as a teacher and any other faculty members to get a sense of who your students are and what their goals and objectives are within the course.
Encourage asking questions
It is important for you as a teacher, to make every student feel welcome in asking questions and speaking up when they are confused or in need of help on a topic. These questions can either be sent directly to you or publicly in the online learning community. Take note of frequently asked questions, and maybe create a forum post around FAQs that each student can easily access.
Have you ever been a part of a group text, where you ask a question of everybody and you’re met with silence? Did you notice that once someone does eventually reply, the floodgates open, and everybody else in the group begins to contribute their answers and responses?
This is a frequent problem area when developing a collaborative community online, but it has a simple solution. The reason for the initial lack of participation in group messaging is due to the lack of in-person communication.
Most communication experts agree that between 70-93% of communication is nonverbal, so when your course reduces communication down to mostly text, students feel cautious around sharing or asking questions as they can’t “read the room” and get a sense of what the general class mentality is.
To go back to my group text scenario from before, once someone does eventually stick their neck out and respond, they set the standard in which all other participants feel comfortable operating within, so the best solution for building connectivity within your course is to have preloaded questions that you can place within online course forums and get the ball rolling.
All in all your students should feel comfortable to share their questions and concerns around the content that you’re teaching, and you should make sure you and your fellow faculty teacher/s create a safe space that is there to help and support students along their learning journey.
Create healthy discussions
Besides having Q&As, one of the best ways to develop community is through creating an environment that encourages healthy discussions and feedback. Discussion forums are critical within educational institutions and online learning communities, and they can be a great tool for students to share their knowledge on effective research practices, finding a better translation for answers, and simply sharing resources.
With the teacher seemingly out of the way, this can free up students to be a lot more vocal around their research strategies and what they have found, teaching fellow students effective learning techniques, and giving them a sense of whether or not they’re on the right track with their work.
This creates an online culture of responsiveness and ownership, with everyone having a common goal of successfully completing their course.
Promote Peer learning
There’s nothing worse than feeling lost and alone within a task, and online courses that haven’t prepared for this factor can be prime locations for students feeling isolated and unmotivated in their studies.
Simply highlighting forum resources or even building into the curriculum structure a designated time for collaboration will help bridge the gap between students who may have felt as though they were tackling a course on their own.
In your online learning community, you can create a discussion board and segment them based on different topics and parts of the learning pathway. For example, specific boards for beginners, and those who have completed modules 1, 2, or 3. Then even those who have finished the course can have a fun celebratory discussion board where they can speak of their experiences and provide feedback to you.
These discussion boards can be more than just for relationship building, but you can take it a step further and open to format to peers teaching each other. Examples include:
- Asking students to summarise their strategies in how they solved a problem in text or audio format and then share it with other groups. This is a way to begin problem-solving and challenges from the learners ’ perspective.
- Design pairing or teaming activities and ask learners to review others’ postings and discuss their mutual reviews.
- Provide frequent feedback to each student (make sure it’s positive!)
In today’s remote world, community is becoming more important than ever. As the majority of us turn to the internet to research, educate, & learn, online communities should be a supplement to online courses, to ensure that students aren’t isolated in their learning experience, but rather supported and encouraged along the learning pathway. We as course creators can help them succeed, by including them in discussions and allowing them to ask questions and provide feedback as well.