How to Build a Thriving Community Within Your Online Course

Online learning shouldn’t be ‘lonely’ experience. While many people know and don’t like this, very few platforms have been able to solve it. The question then is how has OpenLearning shifted this experience from a lonely to a social experience? The answer is through a focus on community.

Traditional learning platforms give a sense of a lack of presence or regular activity. They have been built with very little ways to allow students to interact and express their identity, ideas, and opinions.

OpenLearning, in contrast, has been specifically designed to facilitate student networking by creating in-built sharing tools to encourage group work, self expression, and peer-to-peer interaction that begin to form a safe and positive community.

Tips to Build A Thriving Social Community on OpenLearning

1. Make full use of OpenLearning’s social media inspired feeds and “micro-interactions” that include features like the ‘like’ button and platform-wide commenting ability. Using these tools as a facilitator to interact with students leads to minimal barriers and maximum encouragement.

A micro-example of a micro-interaction from The Great Poems Series: Unbinding Prometheus

2. Aim to make your OpenLearning course both a meeting place for students with common learning interests (especially in the context of massive open online courses, or MOOCs), as well as an online environment where students can become an engaged member within a community of practice.

3. Build rapport between both learners and teachers, promote social appreciation, and encourage self-expression.

Teacher-student interaction, appreciation, and encouragement – your keys to a happy course community

4. Use the wiki and blogging features to advance the ways in which knowledge sharing, collaboration, self-expression, and personalisation can be used to ensure a vibrant and engaged community within courses.

5. Provide a safe and welcoming space and tone for students to be able to have their own voice. This can be done, specifically, by:

  • creating a personal, online identity,
  • giving a sense of presence and fellowship,
  • promoting a community of sharing,
  • facilitating the formation of learning relationships,
  • building a user’s reputation within a community,
  • fostering collaboration in groups, and
  • encouraging meaningful discourse and conversations

How Your Course Activities Can Enhance Interaction In the Community

Online learning systems have traditionally entirely relied on submission drop-boxes or quiz-like assessments. More advanced systems have started to introduce isolated interactive experiences with simulations and virtual environments.

While this is all possible on OpenLearning, the platform takes an additional step of encouraging teachers to create activities that facilitate community interaction. You can incorporate activities that provide interactive collaboration and sharing with the tools provided to keep students immersed and engaged in your courses.

Sounds too good to be true? Here are some activity ideas to actually make this happen:

  • Create/construct and share/exhibit (an activity that encourages self-expression)
    Example: Build something and exhibit it. Experience something and share it
  • Create/do and then compare, or cluster 
    Example: Build something and then categorise it with things others have built. Discuss pros and cons of each others contributions. Compete, achieve recognition, then help others.
    Note that we refer to competition that fosters an attitude of helping each other to achieve new heights, rather than pitting against each other.
  • Reciprocal Teaching
    Example: Teach each other something. Let a student teach a topic.
  • Discover and Share
    Example: Find something interesting and show it to the rest similar to a show-and-tell.
  • Crowd Curation, Approval, Feedback & Peer Review
    Example: Decide on favourite examples, praise what’s good about what each other has shared.
  • Append/Extend Discourse
    Example: Write the next part of a story, continue off from where someone else left off.
  • Contribute/Integrate and combine ideas or collaboratively edit
    Example: Write resources or a textbook together or brainstorm and then compare/filter the ideas.
  • Pass it on/take a turn
    Example: Find someone to show your thing to, they do something to it, and give it to someone else.
  • Crowdsource
    Example: Collect people’s experiences on an issue/scenario.
  • Role Play
    Example: Take on a persona, act out a scenario together.

There is no doubt that creating interactive learning activities helps to bring your course community close together.

Create activities to embrace this connectedness and collaboration, rapport and promote dialogue, discovery, exploration, and the sharing of diverse new resources. The whole idea is to make your OpenLearning course a communal online space where the student community aggregates resources and personalises their own learning environment.