creating student communities

Creating Student Communities Online and Offline

People are social by their very nature. Some are more socially inclined but most people want to connect and engage with others. How can you instill this in your online course? Read some ideas below on how to set up both online and offline student communities to add more power and value to learning in your course.

This post is part of a series on creating personalized, online & offline learning that modern students crave – I call this method, Backyard Blended Learning.

Backyard blended learning series


Many online courses currently don’t have an online community to tap into – to share ideas, ask questions or work together. Some course do that function through a Facebook group.

It’s completely understandable not to have, run and moderate an online community as it is quite time consuming – your time or your teams. Therefore, you could consider setting up an online community and allowing your students to run it, without your involvement.

Regardless, if you facilitate the online community or not, here are some tips:

3 Key Factors for Online Student Communities

  1. Create the space to connect and share
  2. Ensure the space is safe for sharing
  3. Guide how to engage with each other



The two main platforms you need to create for your learners is for both live and non-live communication and for sharing ideas or materials.

Live Communication:

  • Set up a free version of a video conferencing service
  • Or have your students do this by providing links to the service
  • Students can split themselves into separate groups or stay as a whole
  • Free platforms to use:

Non-Live Communication:

  • Use any type of discussion forum, including Facebook
  • If you are not facilitating, help your students to set one up
  • Ensure they can post text as well as share links and materials (docs, images, etc.)
  • Free platforms to use:



It’s sad to think but as educators and facilitators of courses, we have to ensure everyone behaves so not to taint or agitate the experience of others. There will be that odd person who is blunt in their communication or somehow offends others through criticism and judgmental comments.

So, you need to set the tone for the communication spaces.

Here are some general rules you can establish:


  • Write in a positive tone.
  • Make your message brief and to the point and proof before sending
  • Be professional and courteous in your messages and your replies
  • Read other replies before you add yours to reduce redundancy
  • Add helpful information
  • Respect other people’s privacy


  • Wander off-topic or ramble on
  • Post messages solely to point out other people’s errors in typing, etc.
  • Harass, threaten or intentionally embarrass another participant
  • Give intentionally misleading or incorrect information



Last, share how to critically review and respond to other’s work if they are sharing for feedback.

  • Before you even make your first comment, read the document all the way through
  • Point out the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the document
  • Offer suggestions, not commands
  • Comments should be appropriate and constructive. There is no need to be rude. Be respectful and considerate of the writer’s feelings
  • Be sure that your comments are clear and text-specific so that your peer will know what you are referring to
  • As a reader, raise questions that cross your mind, points that may have not occurred to your peer author
  • Try not to overwhelm your peer with too much commentary
  • Be careful not to let your own opinions bias your review
  • Reread your comments before passing them on to your peer

Source: Carlton University


Provide your learners with some ideas on best to communicate, share and work online. Include suggestions on the following:

  • When to meet
  • How much involvement
  • What to share
  • Leading questions
  • Expected Results

For the most part, people have about 1-2 spare hours a week to focus on learning. If your weekly lessons are consuming most of this time, point out that 15 minutes of engagement with the online community is all that is needed. If your lessons are shorter, suggest they get involved for about 30 minutes.

Also, provide suggestions on what would be most helpful to share. Maybe it’s a big idea from one of your lessons, or a short worksheet or a link some work they produced. Zone in on a few key items then can share to keep the amount of content flowing in the meeting space to a minimum.

As well, you can offer some questions per lesson they can use to start a conversation. Think of this as leading a book club meeting with questions provided by the publisher to stimulate a discussion with good/meaty questions.

Not everyone will engage as we hope, I would suggest about 50% or less of your learners love to engage in convos as social learners. Temper the expectations of students so they don’t get frustrated. The lurker is still present but know that she or he is reading posts and learning from them. It’s all good.



You can offer suggestions for students to engage with their own community, be it a public and personal organization, like-minded people, business group, etc.

For instance, if your course is about helping people realize their potential, some suggestions you can give them to enrich this learning is:

  • Join a local organization to meet other inspiring people (i.e. Chamber of Commerce, Youth Center, etc.)
  • Volunteer in their area of expertise to help them grow as a person as well as their skillset
  • Help family or friends to achieve their potential and journal their learning from the experience



Creating an online student community is a lot of work but it can enrich the learning experience for your learners significantly. Maybe try it on a smaller scale, like pre-meeting and post-meeting after the course, or have students self-moderate the online connections.