NDSU Distance & Continuing Education (DCE)

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Communication Online

The success and persistence of students in online courses often depends on an individual sense of belonging to a group and the perception that the instructor is a real, invested, involved person. The unit will examine some fundamental best practices for communicating with students and building community in your virtual classroom.

As a result of reviewing the information in this section:

"Why foster communication and community in a distance education course?"

The dropout rate among distance education learners is an issue of particular concern among distance educators (Rovai, 2002). It is believed that the isolating factors of technology and the distances of space and time can leave learners feeling disconnected and less motivated to persist. (Rovai, 2002). To counter this, social and academic interaction with other students and faculty can play a strong role in motivating the learner to complete a course (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996; Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Tinto, 1998). As with traditional face-to-face learning situations, the learner benefits from a sense of belonging and a confidence that the instructor is truly interested in his/her individual success (Case, Bauder & Simmons, 2001; de Villiers, 2001; Garrels, 2003) Interaction, most especially with the instructor, also affects student perceptions of satisfaction with the course (Beard & Harper, 2002). Established technologies can now allow for synchronous and asynchronous communication and can simulate classroom-like environments where time and space are no longer factors separating learners from each other, the content, or the instructor (Chickering & Erhmann, 1996; de Villiers, 2001).

The tidbit icon. Tidbit:
It may not be practical, feasible, or desirable to incorporate group or collaborative activity among students into some courses or training programs. In such a case, the learner will either need high quality interaction with you, the instructor, or access to a more robust software system that is independently interactive, such as is used with computer automated training.

Referenced Works

Case, D., Bauder, D.K., & Simmons, T.J. (2001). Decision making in the development of web-based instruction. Education at a Distance, 15(50).

Chickering, A.W. & Erhmann, S.C. (1996). Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as a Lever. AAHE Bulletin, October 1996, 3 - 6.

Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, October 1996.

de Villiers, G. J. (2001). Asynchronous web-based technologies to support learning. Master's Thesis, Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria.

Rovai, A. (2002). Building Sense of Community at a Distance. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1), April 2002.

Tinto, V. (1998). Colleges as Communities: Taking Research on Student Persistence Seriously. The Review of Higher Education, 21(2), 167-177.

Communication Tips & Techniques

How to build community and put the theories into action. Select this link to learn more...

Groups & Collaborative Learning

Resources for conducting and assessing group assignments and activities. Select this link to learn more...


A resource for you and your students. Select this link to learn more...