Community Influences on Learner Identity

I have, for a while, recognised that identity is linked to motivation, confidence and feelings of legitimacy. Many young adults report the feeling of being a child in an adults body, frequently into their late 20s or early 30s. If this feeling of becoming a “legitimate” adult is occurring at later ages than previous generations, I would guess it may be due to certain common life goals, such as marriage, becoming a parent and home ownership being postponed due to changes in the economy and other social forces. I have learnt from self-improvement books that one of the keys to achieving goals and becoming the person you aim to be is to “pretend” and mimic that identity. This has the effect on the mind of, over time, convincing itself that the new identity is legitimate. The below youtube video, while targeting a male audience, explains the concept.

My first reading, “Academic Identities and Communities of Practice in a Professional Discipline“, made me think more deeply about how learner identity is formed. I had not considered how the perceptions and expectations of others can influence learner identity. Jawitz (2009) states that identities within a community are in a constant state of “renegotiation” dependant upon the forms of participation individuals choose to take part in. This means that identity is not only formed by the individual but also by others with whom they interact with. Does this mean that a lack of community may also hinder the development of a healthy learner identity in some individuals?

Online forms of education are continuing to grow. This is bringing to light the sense of disconnection students are often experiencing due to physical and psychological separation from teachers, peers and institutions (Rovai, 2002). It has also been shown that positive perceptions of connectedness by students undertaking online courses correlate to higher probabilities of course completion (Bolliger & Inan, 2012). I know for myself, a feeling of connectedness and support from a teacher is important for my own motivation and identity as a good student. As a teacher I will strive to become more aware of my influence upon students’ identities and how my interactions with them can help develop and validate them positively.


Bolliger, D. & Inan, F. (2012). Development and Validation of the Online Student Connectedness Survey (OSCS). The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 13(3). Retrieved from

Jawitz, J. (2009). Academic identities and communities of practice in a professional discipline. Teaching In Higher Education, 14(3), 241-251.

Rovai, A. (2002). Development of an instrument to measure classroom community. The Internet And Higher Education, 5(3), 197-211.


5 thoughts on “Community Influences on Learner Identity

  1. Hi Adam
    You raise a valid point when you speak about the proliferation of online learning and the possible disconnection caused by that particular context. However, I feel that online learning can also harness a student cohort that may, for whatever reason, find it difficult to operate within the traditional physical classroom.

    As you say, evidence suggests that supportive connectedness is a core component of successful completion of online courses. I am like you; I too am more motivated when I perceive there is connectedness due to the support of the facilitator/teacher. How does a teacher/facilitator ensure that they are meeting student’s needs online? I liked the idea of a tool to measure connectedness and isolation (Bolliger & Inan, 2012). Measuring the four important elements of comfort, community, facilitation and interaction/collaboration would give teachers/facilitators an idea of student perceived satisfaction levels.

    Russo, Fallon, Zhang and Acevedo (2014) insist that connectiveness be considered in course design because it is essential for educators to understand student needs in terms of their increased use of communication technology, and what this means for student/teacher interaction and the development of their interpersonal relationship.

    Russo, T.J., Fallon, M.A., Zhang, J., & Acevedo, V.C. (2014). Today’s university students and their need to connect. Brock Education, 23(2), 84-96. Retrieved from


  2. You bring up some great points Natalie. I agree completely that online learning can work amazingly well for those whose needs and learning styles compliment the methods currently being employed.

    I think you’re on the right track with the suggestion of a more attentive approach to the emotional needs of students. Adoption of online education is continuing to gain popularity around the world (Ferriman, 2014) so it’s important that methods be refined to provide better support for those who find online learning is not yet meeting their needs.

    Ferriman, J. (2014). The Explosive Growth of ELearning | LearnDash. Retrieved 17 August 2016, from


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