Online Learning Communities


Sitting in a traditional classroom environment back when I first attended college allowed for me to make connections with other students that I could potentially construct ideas with and build knowledge together. As online communities continue to grow, Dr. Palloff and Dr. Pratt talk about how it is vital toward student success for the learners to make a connection to other students as they learn the ins-and-outs of this new environment. As the learner acclimates to understanding how a learning management system works, time needs to one set aside for students to make a connection with one another so they do not develop a sense of isolation. The power of a learning community is steeped in learner-to-learner engagement as they collaborate within the environment. Learning communities are established by bringing people together with a purpose and having a process in place for their development. An ideal learning environment will enable students to explore content together, challenge one another, give support and provide professional feedback.

Within the online environment, the facilitator will take on a role that is different from the traditional classroom teacher. To create an effective online learning community, the facilitator must be familiar with the technology being used and work at setting the tone for the learning experience they will have. The course should be easy to navigate with naming conventions and include a welcome letter to the participants. Since the first two weeks of the course is critical, the instructor needs to have a strong presence in the course to help resolve any issue or answer questions that come up. As the course gets underway, the facilitator should model the type of behavior for the students that he/she would like for them to embody during their time together.

During the course, the online facilitator will become a guide for the learners functioning in an equal capacity with them and avoid becoming the center of attention to their learning. During the orientation to the online experience for many new to online community students, the instructor or facilitator needs to clearly communicate how they will be supporting the students in the online environment. As the instructor communicates their part, he/she will also need to establish expectations for the student’s involvement as well as some ground rules for how the students will need to interact with one another in order to make the community a safe place to share knowledge and ideas as they help one another to grow academically. These rules of engagement will help to clarify how they are to engage, how often they will be expected to participate and how often the institution will expect learners to participate for official purposes.

The benefits of establishing instructor involvement, the rules of engagement, establishing a sense of community where the students connect with each other and understanding the expectations for the course can lead to a high level of student satisfaction, a positive perception of the learning experience as well as accountability toward one another that will empower them socially to succeed. With the growing number of students from different generations participating in online courses, it is important to remember the significance in balancing technology with the course’s intended outcomes. Most students will take to the integration of a variety of technology tools needed to develop their skills to accomplish their academic goals, but care should be taken not to include an abundance to technology simply for the sake of using technology. As the student grows within the online community and builds confidence while making connections, the feeling of being a part of something greater than themselves offers an ideal opportunity for transformation and self-awareness.


Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from

8 thoughts on “Online Learning Communities

  1. Nice post John,

    I couldn’t agree more with your cautionary note regarding resisting the urge to adopt the latest bells and whistles. The Training and Development world has its fair share of useless theories and training devices. I belong to a couple of Linkedin T&D discussion boards and a large portion of the comments express a lack of general knowledge in learning theories.

    Another prime example is the ubiquitous Smart Board found in corporate and educational institutions across the country. Most of them are little more than wall ornaments, as adopters of this technology soon realize they spent a great deal of money for what amounts to a whiteboard.

    • Rob,

      It is so true about Smart Boards and I see it more than I should in my school district. I’m one of the few certified to teach on the Promethean Boards in my district and I often see the Smart Boards sitting in a corner somewhere, not plugged in or with flyers taped to it for announcements. Learning theories, I agree too, are not getting the attention they deserve. I experienced this when my department wanted to design an online course for our Campus Technology Support Specialist and when I mentioned theories that would help to build community within the online environment, I got nothing but blank stares and a tabled discussion. Thanks for sharing your insight!


  2. Hi John,
    Great post. One item “Within the online environment, the facilitator will take on a role that is different from the traditional classroom teacher.” When I look at the online environment vs. the face-to-face environment, almost feel like people make it seem like they are COMPLETELY different animals. As an instructor, I still feel like your job is almost essentially the same. Welcome the students, provide clear expectations, offer support and guidance where needed (sometimes diagnose the need in students), and create a safe space for learning where students feel free to share, fail, and learn amongst each other. While the ways we do that from online and face-to-face differ, I don’t see the core roles of an instructor differing. Thoughts?

    • Hi Joe,
      I agree that there should be a foundation of what people can expect when it comes to an online course vs face-to-face learning. Some might say that in an online course the facilitator is at a disadvantage because he can’t read body language or see the facial expressions. I don’t think so, but if this were the case, that is where the facilitator would need to become more adept at asking not just a question, but the right type of questions that will lead to an outcome that reveals what the needs are of the student and ways they can help them bridge that knowledge gap.

  3. I think it is also important to remember that each group of online learners will also have their own personality just as a traditional class would each year or semester. The mix of individual personalities can make a “chatty Kathy” class or one that is ‘silent” and anywhere in between. The facilitator needs to gage the learning environment when deciding how much or how little to guide the course. Adult learners want to learn to apply to their everyday job. Just like children, the mix of personalities can affect the course environment.

    Have you experienced varying personalities in your courses at Walden?

    • Hi Michelle,
      I have always been an advocate for understanding others be it through one-on-one interaction, through group formations or by studying personalities like what you would come across in Briggs Myers 16 personality types found on the Truity website (, 2016). I believe it is very important to try to understand the different types of students you could encounter as a facilitator and the type of people you could encounter as a student. Understanding an aspect of those that make the group can assist you in the dynamics of group interaction and allow you to ask questions in a way that might spark conversation that appeals to a personality style that could initiate dialog that is more engaging for everyone. Of course there are other things to consider, but when you are in the learning business, every little thing counts, right!

  4. John,
    I think you did an excellent job of summarizing this weeks video and answering the questions posed in response to the video. I really liked how the video broke down the instructor role in building the community. Starting out with their own contributions, modeling expected behavior and using a minimal amount of technology initially to appeal to the different generations of learners. Well done. I like your blog page, and will continue to follow you through this course.

  5. Thanks, John. I like your focus on student satisfaction and building a sense of community. Thanks for the reference to Palloff and Pratt.

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