How to build an online community

A woman in hijab having a video chat on laptop while sitting at coffee shop.

As an online student, connecting with your classmates and instructor is essential for creating a dynamic online community and learning experience. Studies have shown that online students who form communities within their courses often have higher levels of success in their current course and the courses to follow. Online communities can also help alleviate student isolation and promote a more engaging learning environment.

Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, there are simple things you can do to foster community in your online courses. Read these tips for creating genuine communities in your next online course, so you can reap the benefits.

Thoughtfully introduce and engage

Many online courses begin with an introduction post that can help students engage with one another. Introduce yourself with aspects of your personality others can relate to, then make an effort to read and respond to your classmates’ posts! People appreciate being asked about their lives and finding common interests. Forming connections with classmates early shows them you’re open to creating a community for the group. Take this opportunity to practice your leadership skills and prompt your classmates to contribute. Interacting with others early on will establish a positive and collaborative learning environment that benefits everyone’s online experience.

Create authentic conversation

Online discussion boards can quickly become stale with bland responses and questions — but they don’t have to be! Contributing authentic or slightly vulnerable comments on discussion boards can help promote deeper conversation. These types of stimulating conversations can enhance learning and relationships. Explore diverse perspectives on course concepts and propose your honest opinion or questions; your classmates will also feel welcome to be more true to themselves in discussions. These opportunities for deeper dialogue are often the first step towards genuine relationships with online peers.

Diversify your interactions

Studies of online course forums have observed that students are more likely to interact with peers from their same geographic region. The brilliance of an online course is that there aren’t geographic boundaries for student enrollment. Technology enables online students to text, call, video chat or email with their classmates who may be across the country. If you confidently reach out to your online peers they will likely appreciate your efforts to have ‘out of classroom’ conversation throughout the course. Engaging with students whose perspectives differ from your own enhances your understanding of course material and rewards you with a well-rounded education experience.

Talk to your professors

Online course communities aren’t exclusive to students. Your professors are excellent resources during the course and can be great mentors throughout your academic and career journey. Before the class starts, a simple introduction email to the professor will demonstrate your enthusiasm and comfort interacting with them. As the course progresses it will then be easier to contact them with questions and comments. When you form a meaningful relationship with a professor — online or in person — you’ll have an ally who wants to help you succeed academically and in your career.

Learning online doesn’t mean learning alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out and connect through genuine conversation. Your classmates will likely be equally excited to be part of an engaging online community.