Students in online learning environments are likely to feel isolated and stop participating in their learning activities because of the physical distance and lack of regular face-to-face contact. A sense of community can help students overcome these problems and fully participate in their learning process by having them perceive the environments as safe and by fostering their sense of responsibility to meet the needs of the group. This study explored the factors influencing students’ sense of community in an online course, the relationships among the factors, and the influences of a sense of community.
Results of the data analysis indicated that students established their sense of community by experiencing a sense of co-accomplishment through collaboration. Results also indicated that the factors influencing students’ sense of community related to three dimensions : group interaction, course context, and individual differences. Students’ sense of community was influenced primarily by the outcomes of interactions with group members, such as group members’ behaviors showing consideration for others, responding to their contributions, and contributing to the group collaboration. Factors related to the course context, such as the collaborative nature of the course and the technology used for the course, influenced students’ sense of community by either facilitating or interfering with the group interactions. In addition, some factors resulting from individual differences were critical for students to develop a sense of community. Once a sense of community was established, students developed a sense of camaraderie, a greater sense of responsibility, and trust in their group members.