Skip to main content

Understanding Belonging in Fully Online Education Environments

Understanding Belonging in Fully Online Education Environments

Lauren Mottle - Digital Education Service

Project overview

This project supports the enhancement of practices around providing a high quality, accessible, inclusive, and rewarding student experience on fully online courses by exploring the student experience of online learning. Building on existing literatures highlighting the importance of a sense of belonging to student success, this research asks: how do fully online, postgraduate learners define belonging in online learning spaces? What are the opportunities and barriers to creating a sense of belonging in this context? What are the pedagogical implications in module design and delivery for fostering a sense of belonging for professional online learners?

The research approach

Fully online education allows for collaboration across borders and contexts, creating a uniquely diverse body of learners. Existing research demonstrates that a students’ sense of belonging are associated with higher levels of engagement, academic motivation, retention, success and wellbeing (

However, fostering belonging in fully online learning spaces creates unique challenges, as students will likely never travel to campus or meet their peers and teaching staff in person. Moreover, strategies to support professional learners completing online Master’s programmes will vary significantly from those practices supporting undergraduate or on-campus taught postgraduates. Finally, belonging provides multiple avenues into understanding effective practices around inclusivity and accessibility, allowing for reflection on representation, hidden curriculum assumptions and opportunities to identify common experiences of belonging (or not).

If students feel like the learning environments we design and deliver are “for them” then we will have taken great strides in effective practices for embedding inclusivity and accessibility.

To find out more about the project please contact Lauren Mottle

Each fellowship has a project sponsor that helps the fellows achieve impact across the institution. The sponsor for this fellowship is Jenny Brady.

Project start date: September 2023