A good online community is the best way to keep students motivated

communities-retention-online In a recent think-tank panel in D.C. on trends in higher-ed, one online learning expert from Arizona State University said that the next big discussion for colleges and universities would be on online communities. But why is it so important for online learning?

The simplest answer is that students like it, so they stick around. But why do students in an online environment need community, and what are some key features of a good community?

According to Cheryl Oliver, assistant dean of Online and Graduate Programs at the College of Business, Washington State University (WSU), retention rate increases with community because humans are social by nature.

“We know that people perform best in their courses when they are able to connect with other people, whether that is in writing, through verbal communication, or through a mutually shared experience,” explained Oliver. “While many of our students are capable of autodidactic behavior, they enjoy the social conformation or feedback that is intrinsic to a learning community. In many instances, our students are able to share ideas and arrive at greater conclusions collectively than if they had absorbed or interacted with information as individuals.”

Oliver isn’t wrong: Just take a look at the popularity of most social media platforms and it’s clear that social connection is important not just to younger generations, but an increasing percent of even baby boomers.

But again, why? One behavioral scientist, and his MRI scanner, may have the answers.

(Next page: The neuroscience of community)


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