“the greater a student’s “sense of belonging” to the university, the greater is his or her commitment to that institution … and the more likely it is that he or she will remain”  (Hoffman et al (2002-2003, p.228).

 Online learners need to develop and maintain a healthy Sense of Belonging (SoB) if they are to flourish and fulfil their personal and professional aspirations. However, fostering and maintaining learners’ SoB online is a challenging task for institutions.

Four Scottish universities (University of Dundee, Open University Scotland, University of Highlands and Islands and Queen Margaret University) are developing an advisory toolkit for tutors which will be hosted on the Open University’s Open Learn Create platform. The purpose of the toolkit is to answer tutors’ immediate questions about SoB in online tutoring and learning and to illustrate what can be undertaken to promote SoB. The project is funded by QAA Scotland under the current national Enhancement Theme, Evidence for Enhancement: Improving the Student Experience.

The toolkit will consist of:

  • a short introductory summary of key learning from research into SoB for campus and online learning learners
  • guidance on how to promote a SoB through activities taking a module and programme-wide approach from induction and orientation to evaluation
  • case studies from four diverse scenarios with different subjects, levels, programmes and approaches

The first face-to-face meeting of the team, at Queen Margaret University, on 17th October 2018 focused on progressing the different sections of the toolkit and its evaluation. A project plan with deadlines for deliverables was developed.

A photo of the project team


Amy McDermott (OU in Scotland); Clare Parks (QAA); Susie Schofield (University of Dundee); Linda Thomson (OU in Scotland); Keith Smyth (University of Highlands and Islands); Susi Peacock (QMU); John Cowan (Napier). Heather Gibson from the OU in Scotland was unable to join us for the event.

If you would like further details of the project, please contact the project lead, Susi Peacock.

Hoffman, M., Richmond, J., Morrow, J., & Salomone, K. (2002-2003). Investigating “Sense of belonging” in first-year college students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 4(3), 227-256.