How do I build an online learning community?

What are online learning communities and why build them ?

There are multiple definitions for learning communities; however, a contemporary definition includes features, such as shared goals, a positive socio-economic environment for learning, active participation, collaboration, building knowledge, help and support and distributed expertise. Research suggests that learning is effective when learners work in groups, verbalize their thoughts, challenge the ideas of others, and collaborate to achieve their learning goals. Building an online learning community is important because it plays a vital role in students' academic success and commitment to higher education. Online learning communities not only help in humanizing the virtual environment but also foster learning and establish rapport between students and instructor and between student peers. To create and develop an online community, an instructor provides opportunities for students to interact in a variety of ways to develop a level of trust, respect, and support among community members.

Elements of learning communities

Teaching presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes toward the goal of meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.

Social presence is the ability of participants to identify with the group, communicate in a trusting environment, and develop social relationships by way of expressing their individuality.

Cognitive presence is the exploration, construction, resolution, and confirmation of understanding.

Source : Wilcoxon (2011)

Article : Building An Online Learning Community by Wilcoxon (2011)


One way to start building an online learning community is to create an interactive introduction forum between instructors and students. The introduction forum not only creates a sense of the instructor’s presence in an online classroom, but also presents the instructor as an approachable professional.

Instructors may use a variety of media to introduce themselves, such as videos, photos, narratives, or a forum. The introduction may include basic essentials, such as the instructor’s name, title, field of expertise, teaching philosophy, contact information, and other personal information (e.g., hobbies, family, and experience). Video introductions automatically capture students’ attention. To schedule a time to record your introduction video, submit a Lecture Capture/Record request


Introduction Video : Instructor’s introduction

Narrative : Meet your Instructor  (See attached PDF)

Online Discussion Forum: Introduce Yourself

First Name Last Name
Welcome to the course! I'm from <   >,Texas and went to school at <> University. I enjoy playing basketball and rugby. You may reach me vie e-mail at <your e-mail address> or via Skype <Skype ID> during office hours.

Office hours: 8am - 5pm MWF

Office phone: <your office phone number>

Preferred means of contact:

How long might they expect to wait to hear back from you?  Do you answer emails over the weekend? (Std. 5.3)

Have students introduce themselves to the class

Create a sense of community and humanize the virtual classroom by having students introduce themselves to the class at the beginning of the course. For an introduction activity, the instructor may consider having a discussion board called, “Café” or “Introduce yourself”. The instructor may use engaging Icebreaker questions or activitiesTo keep the student conversations lively and on point, it is important to outline the expectations and provide detailed instructions of what you want your students to do.​


Discussion Board

Introduce  yourself ! 

Introduce yourself to your classmates.  Click "Add a new discussion" and answer the following questions:

Why are you taking this course?
What is your favorite movie and why?
What do you already know about...
Upload your picture to your profile.  Be sure to respond to at least 2 other classmates and follow the participation guidelines for discussion forums as outlined in your syllabus.

Virtual Icebreakers​ 

Tools and Resources​