The Effects of a Virtual Community upon Online Student's Engagement, Satisfaction, and Retention

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

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Brief Abstract

Online program growth has been a priority for the majority of higher education institutions, and sustained focus on the success of non-traditional students is essential. Research shows that social interaction is needed in online environments to promote engagement, satisfaction, and persistence. Learn how a virtual community can make this happen.


Dr. Tamara Dawson is an Associate Professor in the School of Business and Director of the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program at Southern Nazarene University. She has also worked as an instructional designer and course reviewer. Over the last five years, she has developed more than 40 undergraduate and graduate courses, and she specializes in course compliance and universal design for learning.

Extended Abstract

Online learning has grown in popularity over the past decade especially with non-traditional, mature learners, but keeping these learners retained within online programs has been challenging. The purpose of this qualitative, quasi-experimental study was to explore the effects of adding a virtual community component to a standard online course in order to determine whether a sense of community was related to student engagement, satisfaction, or retention. Constructed upon social constructivist theory and principles of andragogy, the research design included adding the virtual community element, which fostered interaction and integrated collaborative activities, to the experimental group’s online course. Participants were online learners within an accelerated, degree completion Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program. They were randomly assigned to either the experimental or control group and were provided a survey at the end of the course to assess their sense of community, engagement, and satisfaction with the online experience. Findings indicated the course delivery method with the online virtual community provided a significantly increased sense of community for the mature learners that positively impacted engagement, satisfaction, and retention. Further research is merited to determine the specific types of communal assignments and activities that best create community in order to alleviate learners’ feelings of isolation in online learning. This session will allow us to share this study in great detail.