Why is community important in an online course?
This KB document is part of a larger collection of documents on enhancing online education. More Enhancing Online Education resources.
Part 1: Fostering Community
A major concern in online learning is alienation and isolation (e.g., Rovai, 2007; Blackmon & Major, 2012) among students. However, the days of online courses as “paper behind glass” are over and an emphasis on active learning and participatory learning environments are becoming the norm. Still, fostering an online community is not as simple as telling students they need to participate and interact with one another. Understanding the nature of learning communities, and online learning communities in particular, is an important first step in cultivating an environment of trust and persistent engagement.
After reviewing this material, you will be able to:
- Define a learning community.
- List benefits of community for online learning.
- Differentiate between in-person and online communities.
[Note: The content you will explore here has been modified from its original version as an asynchronous micro-course offered to faculty in August 2022. Some language found in the following text and/or videos may refer to this course. Future offerings can be found at ctlm.wisc.edu/deepen-your-skills]
What is course community?
Think about an experience of your own related to “course community”. There are many combinations of community experiences you might think about:
- Community in an online or in-person course
- Membership in a course community from a student or instructor perspective
- A course community that was strongly or weakly connected.
As you think about your own course community experiences ask yourself these questions:
- What made this course community particularly strong or weak?
- What characteristics were or weren't present?
- What changes could be made to strengthen this course community?
- What will you mimic (or avoid) in your own course community?
- How do online communities differ from in-person communities?
As you think about your own online course, consider how you want your community to look and behave. Begin with this reading [via UW Libraries, will need to log in with NetID] Howell Major, C. (2015). Chapter 12: Community. in Teaching Online: a Guide to Theory, Research and Practice. Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Here are some questions to think about as you read the chapter:
- How can we broaden our definition of "community"?
- What changes to the faculty experience are necessary for fostering an online community?
- What are the components of an online community?
- Which of the six strategies for promoting and gauging online community will you apply in your courses?
What are the benefits of an online course community?
- Prevent isolation
- Meet common goals
- Improve learning
- Develop extended networks
- More enjoyable learning experience!
Thinking more deeply about “Community”
View the video below to learn more about what a course community is and strategies for fostering meaningful learning communities in your online course.
For additional learning, listen to the Teaching & Learning Forum podcast on: Creating and Maintaining Learning Communities (2021).
How has your idea of "community" changed? How do online and in-person communities differ? Do you now better understand why your own example of a course community was either strong or weak? Hopefully, you also have some new ideas about how to go about fostering community in your online course.