Ten Ways to Integrate Social Learning into an Online Course

If there is one thing I have learned in 20 years of teaching courses at community colleges, it is that students have different learning styles. Some prefer solo learning in front of a computer screen. They can learn at their own pace and at their own time. They can repeat a lesson as often as they want and go back over previous lessons when they have a problem. But others prefer to learn in small groups where they can play an active role - while some prefer interacting with larger groups where they can learn from the abundance of questions which is more likely to occur in a large group setting.

A typical complaint of those who struggle in online courses is that they feel isolated and alone. They want more interaction with their instructor and with other students in the course. In this brief article, we will review ten techniques for integrating social learning into an online course. Some of these ideas are as old as the hills while some are only possible due to recent advances in internet tools and technologies.


To summarize, these ten techniques for integrating social learning are:

#1...Create a course website and blog
This is a place where the instructor can post updates to the course and students can post questions and comments to the blog.


#2...Create an online course forum. This is often much better than a blog in that questions can be organized by subject area where students can follow the entire history of a conversation around a particular topic.


#3...Write and Post a Course Ebook.
An Ebook can be converted to a PDF file that can be shared online by posting it to your website.


#4... Add a course You Tube channel. In addition to posting the course screen casts online, the channel can be used to post course meetings and other useful videos.


#5... Assign course partners. Allowing students to pair up into small groups of two or three on a course project allows students to interact with each other on a one to one basis. It is far easier for two people to find a time to meet and go over course issues than for a larger group to find a common time when they are all free.


#6... Assign course teams. Teams consist of two or more sets of course partners. For example, a typical college course with 24 students could be broken up into 12 sets of partners and 4 to 6 groups of teams with four to six students in each team. Each student would have a partner and be a member of a team. The benefit of this approach is that there may be a topic which neither partner understands but one of the team members does.


#7.... Create a Course Club.
The club could consist of current and past students and hold monthly meetings. They could build and run their own website and plan events and activities together.


#8... Train students in screen sharing techniques.
Screen sharing is a simple method for students to interact with another students and/or their instructor either at specific times or whenever they have a particular question. Think of screen sharing as a meeting of two minds with one mouse. Screen shares can be recorded and posted on the course You Tube channel.

#9... Set up online course video conferences.
A hybrid course gives students the opportunity to ask questions and get answers in a large group setting. There are a number of free video conference programs now that allow students to participant in a course from wherever they have a high speed connection. No need to hassle with traffic jams or parking permits.

#10... Set up course and project online syncing folders.
Spider Oak is an online data storage provider with up to 2 GB of shared data hosted for free in the cloud. Just as important, they focus on protecting both your privacy and the privacy of your students. This is the ideal way for partners and or teams to build a virtual project together – even if they are located in different parts of the world.


If your students are complaining that online learning lacks social interaction, it is time to use modern technology to bring more social learning opportunities to our online courses. Online learning does not have to be isolating, lonely or boring. There is a whole new world of education waiting with socially integrated online courses in the cloud.

For more information on building your own online course, visit our website, collegeintheclouds.org.
David Spring M. Ed.