Deciding to pursue higher education is a major commitment, especially for adult learners who often juggle multiple obligations including work and family. Distance education modalities provide flexible avenues to complete a degree while still fulfilling those other social roles. However, online learning is not without its inherent challenges, one of which is feeling connected and having a close academic support system throughout one’s program.
Chamberlain’s Social Determinants of Learning (SDoL) model emphasizes psychosocial health as key to student success (Sanderson et al., 2021; Study (chamberlain.edu)). The demands of a higher degree program require resiliency and dedication, both of which are bolstered by a sense of belonging and connection to one’s peers and institution (Gopalan & Brady, 2020).
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many challenges, including increased feelings of isolation. Lockdowns that followed the spread of COVID-19 further strained our connection to others (Tice et al., 2021). With students feeling more detached in their usual daily lives, there has been an even greater need to understand and create that sense of togetherness in our university community.
Baumeister and Leary’s (1995) early work on the need to belong posited that humans have an innate, fundamental need to establish and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships. Further, this need is crucial to a happy, successful life and absence of such relationships is detrimental to one’s wellbeing. We were, therefore, interested in understanding how this construct manifested for adult online learners amid a global pandemic, when our ability to relate to others physically and emotionally is vulnerable.
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