If you’re looking for creative ways to encourage your online students to become deeply engaged in your courses and your lifelong devotees, then it’s time to build a virtual community of support around your online membership programs and online courses.

To help highlight just how powerful a virtual community can be for your online students, just imagine walking into a classroom where the lights are off, the desks are vacant, and the instructor has yet to arrive.

How would this experience make you feel? How motivated would you be to begin (and persevere through) the course?

Well, sadly, this is an all too common experience for students in online courses. In fact, online courses that are poorly planned and designed will often look and feel just like the empty face-to-face classroom described above — the lights are off, the desks are vacant, and the instructor has yet to arrive.

The best way to avoid (and plan to avoid) this scenario in your own online courses is by designing virtual interaction into your virtual programs and courses with an online discussion forum or group.

In order to create positive, intentional communities for your online courses, do these 5 things:


    • START SIMPLE – Create an “Icebreaker” section where students can introduce themselves by uploading an avatar or photo and introducing themselves. Two Truths, a Lie, and a Dream is one of my personal favorite ice-breaker activities. Click HERE to learn how to set this activity up in your online discussion forum.


    • SET BOUNDARIES – Set some ground rules (Netiquette) for the forum that S’s must agree to before they can join. If students violate the rules, they can be dismissed from the forum.


    • LEAD AND MODERATE— Lead and moderate discussions using prompts/ questions related to the course to encourage students to “go deep” and elaborate on their learning experiences.


    • PROVIDE EXTRA VALUE– Create content for the group and host live virtual events. Bring in experts, etc.


    • WATCH IT GROW – As your forum takes hold, your role within the group will become more facilitative. At that point, you can sit back, relax, and congratulate yourself on a job well done.


Okay, that about wraps thing up. Be sure to share this article with interested friends and colleagues using the social share buttons below.

If you have a course design related question or would like to request a topic for my next newsletter, please leave a comment below.