How to Create a Community of Online Learning

Editor’s note: This blog post was originally published in March 2015 and updated in April 2021.

While online learning isn’t new, there has been a considerable uptick in interest surrounding how to effectively create and foster an effective online learning community. Meaningful interactions with learners, and between them, needs to be facilitated in order to build a successful, thriving community online.

With the pandemic driving a surge in innovation and ideas about online learning, much thought has been applied to what it means to create a community of online learning. Educational and credentialing bodies everywhere are asking themselves questions like:

  • Is online learning the new normal for my organization?
  • Are online learner-focused teaching styles the future of learning?
  • Will new pedagogical methodologies emerge for the world of online learning?
  • How can my organization build and maintain an engaging and secure online learning community?

Before answering these questions, it’s important to focus on what it means to create an online learning community in the first place.


An Online Community Structure for Modern Learners

Like most things, learning is dependent on structure. And, with the goal of creating an effective online learning community, there has to be the effective translation of “the learning community,” as outlined by renowned pedagogical researcher D.R. Garrison.

Notice the interconnectedness of “community” and “presence.” Not only should these elements be viewed as “present” in the day-to-day learning environment, but the presence of each should be felt by each learner in the environment.

There are three achievable modules in realizing an educational experience that is synonymous with Garrison’s community:

  • Social Presence: is the active awareness of and the ability to identify with the persons around you and the ability to adequately communicate in a shared environment.
  • Cognitive Presence: is a repeating cycle of discovery, creation, understanding, and the confirmation of understanding.
  • Teaching Presence: is the architecture, promotion, and direction of social and cognitive processes to achieve learning outcomes.

When a Social, Cognitive, and Teaching presence overlap, they unite to create an educational experience that achieves the standards of an ideal online learning community.


Bringing Your Online Learning Community to Life

Weaving the above social, cognitive, and teaching elements together, including facilitating the interaction of teachers and learners, is integral to the success of any online community. Online educators, professional associations, and corporate training programs today must understand how to engage online learners and confirm their understanding, all within the scope of their regular curriculum.

Bringing a successful online learning community to life hinges on the technology involved. Today’s online learning platforms allow for interactive, engaging learning experiences that enhance the integrity and reputation of your organization. As you set out to build your online learning experience, make sure you’ve taken the time to evaluate and launch the technology you need, including an exam platform or LMS and a secure online proctoring solution.

Consider seamless technology as the backbone of your organization’s online learning community. Technological hiccups lead to friction in the learning process and frustration for learners and teachers alike.


Questions to Ask Yourself When Establishing an Online Learning Community

As you’re putting your online learning experience together, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are the online learners taking this course?
  • What are online learners seeking to accomplish by completing this course?
  • Why are they taking this course?
  • How will we make ourselves available to my students?
  • How will we facilitate online communication?
  • How will we confirm learning and understanding in an online environment?

Confident learners surface in thoughtful and rewarding environments, and these are achieved through thoughtful answers to the above. Combined with seamless technology, you’ll create an ideal online learning community that thrives over time.

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