“We Have Our Own Belonging”: A Qualitative Investigation of Postsecondary Students' Sense of Belonging Across Online and Face-to-Face Course Formats
As courses and degree programs delivered through distance, remote, and virtual learning formats expand, higher education institutions are faced with the challenge of engaging fully online students to ensure retention and achievement. In traditional, face-to-face course formats, postsecondary students’ sense of belonging has been evidenced to effectively address these issues. However, research on sense of belonging in fully online courses is limited. The current study is a qualitative investigation of postsecondary students’ sense of belonging, conducted at a large university in southeastern United States. Several themes emerged from individual and group interviews suggesting that a sense of belonging can be fostered through substantial relationships, supportive interactions, and establishing affiliations with others in their courses. Unique needs of fully online students, differences from their fully face-to-face peers, and implications for instruction are discussed. Findings from our study extend the literature on belonging, establish a foundation for empirical studies of this construct in online courses, and inform how higher education institutions prepare inclusive, rigorous learning across formats for all postsecondary students.
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