Reflecting on Learning Together 2022

February 9, 2022
By OLI Staff

On Friday, January 28th, 2022, Penn’s Online Learning Initiative hosted an online conference, “Learning Together: Creating Inclusive Communities.” Panelists from Penn, other universities, and entrepreneurs reflected on what we've learned about using online platforms, the norms of online interaction, and creating more inclusive and robust university communities.  

A clear theme of the conference is that community, inclusivity, and innovation are all central to the robust learning experiences at Penn, whether learning takes place on campus, online, or a mix of the two. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives and pushed learning in new directions, and the conversation moved quickly from theory and experience to practical steps for the future.  

"We came up with five ingredients that are common in all great learning experiences of high engagement at scale,” explained Furqan Nazeeri, Partner at Extension Engine. 

"Learner-centered content, active learning, unbounded inclusion, community connections, and real-world outcomes. Like food, these are the ingredients for creating great online learning experiences. There is no single recipe."

Laís de Oliveira, Author and Program Director at the On Deck Community Builders Fellowship told the audience that, 

"What creates a feeling of familiarity among strangers who are meeting online is curiosity. That's willingness to learn eagerness to learn."  

Community engagement and principles of inclusion are foundational features of both innovative and collaborative learning environments. As learners feel more comfortable and confident in their virtual classroom spaces, they are able to approach their studies with enthusiasm and curiosity. Throughout Learning Together, educators discussed how they cultivated a sense of belonging that promoted stronger virtual learning communities and pivoted to more accessible online tools for students. 

A conference attendee shared,

"Creating community requires a safe space where input is welcome. It's not transactional. A strong community is a benefit in scaling up."

As attendees actively engaged in the conference zoom chat, they inquired about actionable next steps for creating more connected communities and continuing the conversations following the conclusion of the conference. We are thankful that Learning Together provided a unique opportunity for people from all walks of the virtual learning world to come together, gain new perspectives, and collectively brainstorm methods of continued support for online learners. 

"[Education] is not just about high-quality instruction, but also the intangible benefits of creating cohorts and creating a community of learners that can interact with each other.”

- Vijay Kumar, Professor and Nemirovsky Family Dean, Penn Engineering, The University of Pennsylvania