The decision to pursue higher education is a serious commitment, especially for adult learners, who often combine several responsibilities, including work and family. Distance learning modalities provide flexible opportunities for a degree while performing other social roles. However, online learning is not without its inherent challenges, one of which is to feel connected and have a close academic support system throughout the program.
The Chamberlain’s Social Determinants of Learning (SDoL) model emphasizes psychosocial health as the key to student success (Sanderson et al., 2021; Research (chamberlain.edu)). The requirements of the higher education program require resilience and dedication, reinforced by a sense of belonging and connection with one’s colleagues and institution (Gopalan & Brady, 2020).
The COVID-19 the pandemic has caused many problems, including heightened feelings of isolation. The blockade that followed the spread of COVID-19 further strained our relationship with others (Tice et al., 2021). As students feel more distant in their normal daily lives, there is an even greater need to understand and create this sense of unity in our university community.
The early work of Baumeister and Leary (1995) on the need for belonging argued that people have an innate fundamental need to establish and maintain significant interpersonal relationships. In addition, this need is crucial to a happy, successful life, and the lack of such a relationship is detrimental to well-being. We were therefore interested to understand how this design manifested itself for adult online learners amid a global pandemic when our ability to communicate with others is physically and emotionally vulnerable.