The benefits of belonging: Students’ perceptions of their online learning experiences

Daniela K. DiGiacomo, Ellen L. Usher, Jaeyun Han, Jill M. Abney, Anastacia E. Cole, Jaylene T. Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Learning environments that support a sense of belonging have been shown to help students fully and meaningfully participate in their learning. Less is known, however, about the social organization of online learning environments that support a sense of belonging, particularly in postsecondary contexts. With an explicit attention to issues of equity, this mixed-methods study examined what makes undergraduate students in the United States of America (N = 4,544) feel included in online learning environments during a global pandemic. Survey responses collected in the fall of 2020 were analyzed through a sociocultural learning theory framework. Rating scale and open-ended responses revealed that students’ sense of belonging and inclusion varied by student race and gender and by instructional modality (synchronous vs. asynchronous). Opportunities for discussion, interaction with peers, and feeling that one’s racial or ethnic group was represented in the curriculum were among the environmental affordances that supported a sense of belonging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-39
Number of pages16
JournalDistance Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, Inc.


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • higher education
  • online learning
  • social belonging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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