How to Build Meaningful Community for Online Learners #DLNchat


How to Build Meaningful Community for Online Learners #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     Mar 18, 2019

How to Build Meaningful Community for Online Learners #DLNchat

Learning is often a social process, taking place through dialogue, discussion and other forms of interpersonal interaction. Even when it happens individually, having a supporting community can provide learners with the motivation and opportunities for applying and connecting knowledge.

With more and more students learning remotely, the #DLNchat community set out last week to answer the question: How can universities create meaningful community for online students?

How do #DLNchat-ters define community? Some highlighted shared practice: “Community is built on experiences (in real life or virtual) among a group of people,” said Matt Arnold. Others stressed the building of relationships: “Community is a space, whether virtual or face-to-face, where humans (social animals) can connect, relate, love, learn, and challenge each other,” Karen Costa shared.

Encompassing both themes, Betsy Jane Dougherty tweeted: “Community is building relationships around common interest and trust.”

A set of shared practices in an online class community is built around the learning goals. But faculty can provide opportunities for students to find common ground with one another—and instructors. Jennifer Albat suggested: “Pay attention when students introduce themselves. Take notes and tie feedback into their personal goals or hobbies.”

Arnold had similar advice: “Get real with them! I mean show them you’re human and not a wizard behind the screen. Instructors should remember to convey emotion with chats. Use emojis, humor... When you start a virtual meeting, ask them how their weekend went. Go the extra mile to be human.”

Building community means building relationships—and that requires a concerted effort. “Relationships take time,” Costa tweeted, but they are worth the effort. “Validation is critical in using relationships to build academic success, especially for diverse students,” Costa also said, adding: “For our new traditional students who are often first generation, hearing our human stories of failure and challenge is critical to building trust. Many of our students have backgrounds with academic trauma. We have to gain trust.”

Not all community-building occurs in real-time. As Paul Wilson said, “Teachers can communicate through design, discussion interaction, and formative feedback.” #DLNchat-ters offered ideas about how to better use tools for online discussions. “Use active learning techniques. Pepper your discussions with topics that meet outcomes but also can garner student interest,” tweeted JJ Johnson. “Design online discussions around experiences (games, virtual trips, etc. done in class), videos, or other artifacts (research, cases) that students study, but also build an ongoing conversation by posting authentic replies,” advised Arnold.

Don’t forget to bring learners into the discussion and design process as well, Jake Hansen recommended: “Encourage students to be content creators instead of content regurgitators.”

A couple key themes emerged among these tips for online discussion. First, as Wilson summarized: “Research suggests if teachers relieve cognitive load, the students can focus on critical discussion.” Second, these efforts start before the discussion boards open up—with a culture of trust. Linda (@jlkes) put it this way: “Culture that allows students to feel safe stepping outside of their learning comfort zone is an important step.”

Effective learning cultures should also extend beyond the classroom, some #DLNchat-ters argued. “Creating communities outside of the classroom helps students to feel more like individuals, parents, spouses, etc. rather than just ‘students,’” tweeted Jaclyn Blackford. “Have the community include more individuals than just those who are in a particular course or course of study, or even including those who aren’t students,” Dannon Loveland suggested. Hansen agreed; he has seen success to this approach when teaching coding and app development through service-learning challenges that encourage students to solve problems in their community.

Hansen, and other #DLNchat-ters, envisioned community as the driving force behind the future of learning. “In the near future, I see hyper-personalized modalities of learning, where free-flowing learning will occur based on life/work experiences,” Hansen said.

Building trust and meaningful relationships between students, educators and other community stakeholders may seem like a tall order. But it can start with small steps. As Costa shared: “Another very simple strategy that I use is to send an announcement to students and encourage them to find an ‘online buddy’ in the course, someone they have something in common with who can support their journey. Simple as heck, right?”

If you’ve got questions or ideas about building community for online students, tweet our community with the hashtag #DLNchat. You can also RSVP for next time: #DLNchat (Tweet-Along): EdSurge Live Thought Leader Interviews at ASU + GSV 2019 on Tuesday, April 9 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET. For more topics, check out our summaries of past chats. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET, Tyton Partners and EDUCAUSE.

#DLNchat (Tweet-Along): EdSurge Live Thought Leader Interviews at ASU + GSV 2019
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