Did you know that online creators like you can enhance the learning experience for your students by creating a sense of community? It’s true. And it’s evidence-based.
Connecting with others is at the heart of human nature. Now, don’t misunderstand me – this is not a dating website 😂 Well now I’m just being silly but I couldn’t resist! Kidding aside, we do gravitate toward people with whom we share common interests.
Digital classrooms are very structured. So when you bring together a group of people to master something interesting alongside each other, it’s one of the best ways to focus a community to reach a goal or learn more deeply about a topic. As a creator, you’d want to know how these connections translate to the success of your online course, right?
Whether you’ve already launched your course or are not quite there yet, building a community is essential for any course.
So, in this blog post, we will explore:
- The importance of building community in the online classroom
- How to build community with strategies that work
Why Community Matters for Your Students’ Success – and Yours!
“The learning experience of every student and the effectiveness of every teacher is influenced by what goes on among and between people who populate the classroom.”
—Ehrman & Dornyei
Simply put, community is built on relationships. The more positive the relationships, the stronger the community. And a strong community means success for both students and course creators.
1. The Elements of a Community
In the context of a learning community, two key elements – learning and connectedness – are necessary to grow a strong community.
In a community where students have similar interests, they gel. They feel safe to talk openly without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. So not only can they encourage and support each other, they can motivate and inspire each other. This makes online learning a positive experience.
2. The Digital Classroom Creates Opportunities for Growth
Our lives are becoming increasingly digital. In today’s overstimulated world, some might see this as a con. But the upside? Probably the greatest strength of the internet is bringing people together from different parts of the world.
In a digital community, interactions happen predominantly by messaging so relationships and bonds with students hundreds & thousands of miles away are formed…relationships that would never otherwise happen. Imagine the perspectives this would bring to open your students’ eyes 😳 Even your eyes as an educator!
So the online classroom creates opportunities for course creators to intentionally create an environment to keep students engaged – for their growth and yours!
3. Repercussions of not having Community
The value of a network increases with every person who joins and contributes. When you have a group of people with whom to relate, feel safe to express their opinions and ideas, exchange information, and collaborate, students feel safe. Without this, students may feel alienated, insecure, and uninspired. So there’s a higher chance of being discouraged from reaching their goals 😔
Despite the fact that your course content might be “spot on” for them, their negative emotions and experiences might get in the way of them seeing this. Therefore, the manner in which an online community develops has implications for the roles and responsibilities of course creators.
So how do you go about establishing a strong community?
Now that we’ve covered the why of building a community for your course, let’s take a look at the strategies on how to build community.
How to Build a Community
Online course communities add an interactive element to a course creator’s content which makes for dynamic learning. People gather in creator communities to get access to the creator, discuss their work, and be in the know when new work comes out.
There are several strategies creators can use to promote community in their online courses. To list a few…
1. Find the RIGHT platform for your community
The biggest complaint from creators is finding a platform that connects with their course content. If students have to log into a platform separate from your course, it might not happen.
It’s important for your audience to see your content and to connect with each other in the same place. This way, they can easily interact with each other through posts, comments, and likes…and beyond (more on this later). They become more engaged and it helps you to build a relationship with them. This is where the magic happens 😉
2. A Good Communications Plan is Key
Everything good starts with communication! Good communication, that is. So hatch yourself a plan to stay in touch regularly.
- Create an editorial calendar to outline when to contact students and what to convey
- Get the ball rolling with an introductory video (it’s more impactful than words) to introduce yourself, welcome students to the course, and provide pertinent reminders. It begins to build the bond between teacher & student and creates a culture of care and puts students at ease. As well, it shows you are present, available, and committed to student success. First impressions are critical so set the right tone
- Communicate at the start of each module. This will go a long way to motivate students to participate, stay engaged, and take action
- Foster an attitude that everyone matters and everyone can contribute to creating and developing the learning space
3. The Power of Social Presence for Learning
Social presence is the ability of learners to project themselves socially and emotionally. As well, it’s important for them to have a sense that they’re interacting with ‘real people’.
So how do you facilitate social presence?
- Encourage participation right from the start. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, ask students to introduce themselves. Give them the option of video or text. This will pave the way for the “shy” ones to jump in and there begins the student-to-student connection!
- Embrace questions: An online space designed to encourage questions will get students enthusiastic about learning. This type of interaction builds social and emotional learning skills, trust, and insight
Either of the above gives students a reason to return to their community regularly to “meet” their fellow students and check for responses to theirs and questions posed by other students. And again, discussion is stimulated.
4. Pave the Way for Students to Share Info
- Make good use of technology by setting up sub-communities or breakout rooms for students to discuss specific topics. This deepens the connection and reduces feelings of isolation. Take it a step further by asking the sub-groups to collaboratively post their findings
- Make the content relatable to current affairs and allow discussion to follow. Ask them to seek out and post relevant articles, blog posts, videos. This gets them digging deeper about your course content and goes a long way to keeping them engaged
- Create a student lounge for them to generally interact and discuss the course (and beyond). Getting to know their peers online strengthens the connection and thus, enhances their learning experience
So as you can see, there are several ways and many benefits to building community in an online classroom, though this is just a small sampling. But it’s useful to get your students the results and transformation they’re looking for – faster! Remember, your student’s success is a measure of your success.
Communities are one of the best ways for a creator to build a relationship with their audience and for that audience to connect with each other and your content. So whether it’s student-to-student, student-to-instructor, or student-to-content… they’re all vital connections.
Beyond the warm & fuzzy feeling and a sense of accomplishment that you’ve contributed to your student’s life growth, happy clients write great reviews! At the risk of sounding repetitive, digital word-of-mouth goes a long way to organically promote your online course….to the whole world! The sky’s the limit.
So what are you waiting for? Start building your community now!