Five Strategies to Build a Sense of Commuity in an Online Learning Environment

Strategies to build a sense of community. A community of Inquiry Model guides effective online learning. Strategies have been found to be most conducive to the development of student sense of community. Begin with highly interactive introductions. Small group collaborations create opportunities for students to work together. Peer Teaching Online discussions Share online resources References

Building Community

We know that building community in an online course is important, but how do you do it?

Research supports that building a sense of community in the online context contributes to learner feelings of belonging to a collective, minimizes isolation, and fosters academic achievement. Learning happens best through active and engaged participation with one another.

 A Community of Inquiry Model guides effective online learning. These dimensions interact to contribute to a sense of community (Garrison, 2007).

  • Cognitive presence: Student ability to make meaning through sustained interaction
  • Social presence: Student ability to present self as authentic person in a virtual medium
  • Teaching prescence: Instructor ability to be activelyengaged to facilitate and shape learning


The following strategies have been found to be the most conducive to the development of students sense of community (Shackelford & Maxwell, 2012).

  1. Highly interactive introductions:
    • It is vital to begin your course with the opportunity for students to get to know one another, establishing connections, identifying commonalities, and appreciating differences.
    • Be creative! Examples including having students make and post introductory videos. Use ice breakers or discussion prompts with intention to learn about one another on a human level.
    • The intention is to humanize the learning environment.
  2. Small group collaborations:
    • Create opportunities for students to work together on assignments, activities, and projects.
    • Provide structure with clear instructions and guidance on what you expect students to do.
    • Promotes teamwork and build relationships.
    • Allows for mutual support.
    • Makes space to try new roles, discuss challenges, and develop trust.
  3.  Peer Teaching:
    • Have students make presentations from collaborative projects and other group work.
    • This provides students with control over their learning as well as leadership opportunities.
    • Students learn from each other and can connect their learning to the real world of nursing where we work as teams.
  4.  Online discussions:
    • Whole class discussions may be synchronous or asynchronous. Small breakout groups may be used to engage more meaningfully, followed by a report out to the large group.
    • Instructor presence is key, not to control the discussion, but to continue community building through facilitating dialogue, answering questions and assisting students to mutually construct understanding of course content. Another key role is to foster inclusivity by inviting participation and making room for all voices to be respectfully heard.
  5.  Share resources with one another
    • One of the most beneficial strategies to students is the opportunity to share learning resources with one another. When students build relationships with one another and are encouraged to share resources and ideas such as articles, websites, study skills and technology tips, this contributes to their success and sense of community.


  • Garrison, D. R. (2007). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(1), 61-72.
  • Shackelford, Jo L., & Maxwell, Marge. (2012). Sense of community in graduate online education: Contribution of learner to learner interaction. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(4), 228-249
  • Drouin, M. A. (2008). The relationship between students' perceived sense of community and satisfaction, achievement, and retention in online courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9, 267-284.