Creating a Community of Learners through Flow States

graphic of four onine learners in a quadrant engaging with each other
Student Success
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Essie Childers is a Professor of Student Success at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas


Growing up in East Texas, my memories of community centered around the hair salon. When my mother took us to the salon, it was a most enjoyable time. While the ladies would do our hair, I’d always hear conversation and laughter. Sometimes, someone would read sections of an article from a magazine to gather input. But what I remember most was the fact that everybody knew each other. A spirit of respect permeated the air. So, today I wonder: how can I create this effect in my online class, whether synchronous or asynchronous? Sure, this is a daunting task, but we—as educators—have always been able to rise to the challenge.

In developing a community of learners to create flow, where students are engaged in learning, I would like to recommend four best practices.

Build Confidence in Students

Students new to the online environment may enter your class with poor self-management skills coupled with procrastination tendencies. Foster students’ self-efficacy by building their confidence level. In her book, Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, author Elizabeth Barkley posits that faculty can help develop students’ confidence by providing clear directions, checkpoints, and deadlines. Introduce a “Things to Do List” or a “Next Actions List” to students where they make a list of daily assignments for each class. Challenge students to work smarter by working ahead.

Use the Socrates Discussions Jar

Create a community of learners through a free exchange of information. To be effective, all members must participate. One way that Barkley suggests doing this is through the creation of a Socrates Jar. Before class, write or type students’ names on a slip of paper and place in a jar. As you give your mini-lecture, randomly pull a name from the jar, asking a question to the student. Avoid questions leading to yes or no answers. Students must elaborate or expand in their response. As you can see, using the Socrates Discussion Jar method of questioning, students are attentive to the lecture.

Create Breakout Rooms

A community of learners practices the element of interdependence by developing mutually responsive relationships. Assigning students to teams or groups helps to promote learning through active speaking and collaboration. In a breakout room, give a specific assignment or problem to solve. It could be creating Cornell Notes or creating a PowerPoint of key points from the chapter. Can you imagine a situation where students are so engaged that they completely lose track of time? That’s flow. Groups can share their screen with the entire class for a debrief of the activity. Also, the groups can post their notes in a discussion forum for peer comments.

Integrate Just in Time Teaching (JiTT)

In teaching a diverse group of students, provide avenues to check comprehension before coming to class. Just in Time Teaching is where the instructor asks students to respond to a question from their reading. The instructor reads the student’s responses, “just in time,” to adjust the lecture to address fuzzy concepts. This method provides a connection to loop together online and class participation.

A blend of synchronous and asynchronous online activities can create a community of learners in which flow can occur. A trust exists, and there is a rise in grades and intrinsic motivation. Don’t be surprised if you hear about students meeting together outside the designated class time.


To gather more tips for fostering student engagement, download our free ebook, full of peer tips.