An exploration into the importance of a sense of belonging for online learners
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Peacock, S., Cowan, J., Irvine, L. & Williams, J. (2019) An exploration into the importance of a sense of belonging for online learners. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (In Press).
Online learning provides flexible learning opportunities but with it come notable issues. Fostering a sense of belonging and a personal connection is seen as fundamental by many educational researchers regardless of the learning environment. For online learners, nurturing a sense of belonging may present a way of improving their experiences and attainment as well as reducing attrition rates. Limited research has explored specifically sense of belonging and online learning. This article addresses that gap and reports a small-scale exploratory study using qualitative data collection and analysis methods to investigate its importance, or not, for postgraduates’ online education, by exploring the origins and nature of their lived experience of online learning and their sense of belonging therein. Our initial findings emphasise its importance for them as online learners and has identified three significant themes: interaction/engagement; the culture of the learning; and support. These early findings highlight the importance of their role in promoting a sense of belonging and in ensuring that there are opportunities for meaningful group and peer interactions and will be of interest to all engaged in online education