Membership & Community Building

How to Build an Online Learning Community

9 min
Online learning community

Learning is a social activity in itself. We learn through contact and discourse with another person more competent in the field. Sharing knowledge and ideas is what makes the educational journey and the learning experience even more enriching.

Through productive conversations and collaborative learning, we can continually shape our understanding of any topic at hand and even co-create knowledge.

However, creating a successful online learning community is not as easy as it may seem. It requires a deep understanding of the key components of social learning and the various motivators that drive learner engagement.

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In a nutshell, the key components of social learning are:

Building a sustainable online learning community involves balancing these elements and fostering a supportive and engaging environment for learners to thrive. By building an online community around learning, you retain your students’ engagement and improve learning results at the same time!

💁Before you go on, are you looking to create your own learning community? You can do that with LearnWorlds, starting building your online living-learning community within the first 30 days free.

You can even create a membership-only learning community program for your students if you are an academic institution or for a business’s target audience.

An online learning community is a virtual space that connects people with similar educational interests to share information and resources and support each other’s learning. It is designed to facilitate collaboration, discussion, and knowledge-sharing among its members, who may be students, teachers, professionals, or anyone interested in a particular subject.

The online format allows for the exchange of ideas and resources from anywhere in the world and at any time, making it a flexible and convenient way to learn and grow.

Online learning communities are essential to achieving a productive online learning environment. This is why they are so popular, especially in higher education (e.g., college student groups, faculty members, alumni, etc.).

Types of Online Learning Communities

There sure are a lot of different types of online learning communities. Let’s briefly explore some of the most common ones. Keep in mind that one type of community doesn’t necessarily exclude the others. It’s not an either/or situation; you may find that a blend of different types works best for your learning needs.

8 Proven Ways to Build a Sustainable Online Learning Community

Each type of online learning community serves a different purpose and has its own unique features, but all aim to nurture sustainability by offering opportunities for learners to connect, engage, and grow their skills and knowledge over time.

In a sustainable learning community, there is a balance between the needs of the individual learners and the community’s needs as a whole. Members are encouraged to provide a sort of community service by supporting one another while also receiving support and guidance in their own learning journeys. Members find ways to explore, think, innovate, develop skills, and seek conceptual understanding- things they wouldn’t achieve independently.

These learning experiences instill a sense of belonging and camaraderie that keeps online learners engaged and motivates them to persevere.

Achieving sustainability in a learning community requires careful planning and management, active engagement from all members, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

However, most instructors struggle to make learners participate in the discussion board because learners attend the courses in their time-space.

There are ways that you can use to establish participation gradually and, in the end, a real sense of a sustainable learning community.

A thriving collaborative learning community can be created online in a number of ways. In this article, we will explore the top 8 proven ways to do so.

In this example, you can see what our initial message should look like:

LearnWorlds online learning community screenshot. The instructor introduces and engages in a discussion with the community.
An example of establishing an instructor’s presence
Welcome to our course! I look at teaching…as a chance to share my enthusiasm about this subject with all of you, whether you are taking this class to fulfill a general requirement, have a personal interest, or because you are exploring whether or not to major in this area.
I first became interested in…as an undergraduate. My particular interests are …

Don’t forget that your initial postings in the discussion forum, your first messages sent to all by email, or the greeting you post on your course home page will do much to set the tone and expectations for your course.

Announcements help us build a stronger rapport with our learners.

News and announcements make you seem active. You are the half part of the equation.

Depending on your preferences and those of your learners, you can also send emails, texts, push notifications, or social media messages that repeat online announcements or merely remind learners to log in to view those announcements.

If you send a weekly message via email or some other format (e.g., Twitter), ensure these are identical to any announcements in your online classroom.

Let learners know from the first day of class that each time they log in, they should check for the latest announcements. So, having a uniform announcement area in your course platform is essential.

Here are some examples of announcements:

I am glad that so many of you are participating in the weekly discussion forums. During the next week, I will send your grades and comments. You can email me if you have any questions about how I determined your grade.

During the early part of an online course, it is critical for class members to get to know one another and learn to share things from an online class community.

A good idea is to create a discussion thread called “Introduce Yourself.” It’s also fruitful to present yourself too.

In this course, we will be working together collaboratively to achieve the course objectives we have set. I look forward to getting to know you. To get things started, please introduce yourself to the other learners. The curricular of this course aims to help you achieve…

These discussion threads enable the instructor to act as a peer mentor and also to identify learners with similar interests and help them to group learners for collaborative work later on in the course. This tactic is even more effective in cohort-based courses where a close-knit community is essential.

Learners must feel free to pose questions either via email (directly to the teacher as a private communication) or by posting on a discussion forum (publicly).

The drawback of the email approach is that the learner is relying on the teacher as the sole provider of information.

It is advisable, therefore, to set up a Q&A discussion thread for the duration of the online course. This not only improves the academic experience but also saves time for the teacher by answering FAQs and encourages communication:

The purpose of this thread is for you to have a place to ask course-related questions. When appropriate, please feel free to post thoughts to questions posed by others as well.

Synchronous communication provides a sense of immediateness, boosts student engagement, and cultivates the feeling of responsiveness among participants.

It also results in quick problem-solving. Real-time chat is probably the most exhausting and intensive activity you will ever encounter in online teaching, yet it is vital to student success.

Your attention must be attuned to rapid-fire comments and questions from several learners.

It is best to plan a live collaboration chat with your learners early on.

That can be achieved with a live class or webinar.

Asynchronous discussion allows time for reflection and encourages more careful consideration of the answers given.

Learners can reflect and think about their responses rather than having to respond immediately.

The shaping of discussions takes some proper forethought.

A discussion integrating specific readings in the textbook, coupled with your guideline questions, will likely be more productive.

One way of promoting meaningful dialogue and questioning is to provide a set of rubrics of the kinds of questions students may want to ask each other:

Your point about…is not clear to me. Can you state it another way or provide an example?
Do you have any additional evidence to support your thinking about…?
You describe how your thinking has changed. What influenced that change?
What assumptions are you making about…? How would your statements change with different assumptions?
What are the implications of your statement?
What evidence is there to support your point of view? Does anyone want to dispute or verify that?

Tips for a great asynchronous conversation:

Does anyone else want to comment on Jill’s observation?
Did anyone reach a different conclusion about this issue?

In your discussion board, you can create group conversations where smaller groups of learners can interact and also produce crafts. You can use this tactic to build a supportive community of peers in any academic environment (high school, college, etc.) or work environment.

Here are a few strategies for promoting group work:

As an extension of your course topics, you might like to create a blog outside the course platform, where learners will post articles, reflections, diary entries, images, links to websites, audio, or video clips, etc.

A community of learners can co-exist and co-develop in several social means concurrently. That will make it even more coherent.

On this special website, you can:

In LearnWorlds Academy, for example, we provide a community page where students, after enrollment, can follow each other, create posts or comments, participate in polls, and also interact with others’ posts by highlighting the best, filtering them, starring them, and much more!

LearnWorlds learning community screenshot
A glimpse at LearnWorlds Online Learning Community

Sharing is caring. Sharing is thinking together, negotiating, collaborating, and co-creating.

These are the main elements of productive communities of learning.

The cycles of sharing, commenting, responding, and synthesizing among learners promote community-building emotions since learners no longer focus solely on their understanding.

Why not give the techniques we’ve discussed in this article a shot? We’d love to hear how it goes for you; let us know your experiences and any feedback you have. We’re here to help and support you in your learning journey.

Also, take a look at how you can interact socially with learners inside LearnWorlds and get some ideas on how comments, messages, posts, and course discussions come alive there.

If you want to create your own online learning community, you can get a 30-day free trial of LearnWorlds.

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Rosemary is LearnWorlds’ Content Marketing Manager. She has over 2 decades of experience in omnichannel marketing and content writing for the IT and SaaS industry. Her expertise lies in crafting effective content marketing strategies that attract, engage, and nurture customers, enabling LearnWorlds to reach its target audiences with precision.