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Tips for Building a Distance Learning Community

Whether you’re brand-new to distance learning or looking to refresh your e-learning environment, here are some tips to help you build a productive classroom community.


Online discussions, especially in large classes, can sometimes become confusing or even a little chaotic. Just as you do in a classroom, it helps to set up and practice routines for online discussions. For example, you may want to post a morning message each day and have students post responses. It also may be helpful to outline a structure in which each student is required to post one comment about a reading assignment, then pose questions or responses to two or three classmates. 


To encourage mindful communication, share our full list of Student Guidelines for Online Discussions (available here) with your class, or simply remind them of these key points:

  • Keep it school appropriate. If you wouldn’t say it in the classroom, don’t say it online.
  • Be respectful. Respect the thoughts and feelings of all classmates. Remember there’s a real person behind the screen.
  • Add value. All comments should be clear and on topic, and should move the conversation forward. 

Taking part in the conversation demonstrates how much you value it; it also helps to model what a productive and engaging conversation looks like. Try to check in on online discussions regularly, even if you only have time to post one or two brief responses. 


When you set clear expectations, this community is mostly self-regulating. But on occasion, something may go wrong. Be prepared to intervene quickly if a student makes an inappropriate comment or if the discussion gets too far off topic. 


Group discussions are great, but both you and your students likely miss the one-onone interaction that personalizes learning. So create a Google Form where students can sign up to “visit” you during virtual “office hours” once a week. This allows you to check in with students and offer individualized help, but it also establishes clear boundaries as to when those conversations can take place.