Online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: does social connectedness and learning community predict self-determined needs and course satisfaction?

Erin Geary, Kelly-Ann Allen, Nicholas Gamble, Saeed Pahlevansharif

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3 Citations (Scopus)


The present study investigated whether online students’ sense of community and self-determined need satisfaction predicted online course satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sample consisted of 136 Australian university students who were studying online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students completed online surveys for sense of community (i.e., social connectedness and learning community), self-determined need satisfaction (i.e., relatedness, competence, and autonomy), and online course satisfaction. The study results indicated that learning community and social connectedness significantly predicted the self-determined needs and online course satisfaction, with learning community having a large effect size. Autonomy partially mediated the relationship between social connectedness and online course satisfaction; autonomy was the only self-determined need to predict online course satisfaction. It was concluded that online university students require learning communities and social connectedness to meet their needs and have a satisfying learning experience. The self-determined need of autonomy was the most important for student’s satisfaction with their course. These findings have implications for universities to build a sense of community in their courses to support students' needs and improve online course satisfaction. Practitioner Notes 1. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the experience of university students in 2020. 2. Learning community and social connectedness significantly predicted relatedness, competence, and autonomy in the tertiary students sampled. 3. Need satisfaction of autonomy, competence, and relatedness significantly predicted online learning satisfaction 4. Autonomy mediated the relationship between social connectedness and online learning satisfaction, and learning community and online course satisfaction 5. During the COVID-19 pandemic, university students were more satisfied with their online courses when they were engaged in a learning community, socially connected to their peers and instructor, and felt their autonomy self-determined need was met.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of University Teaching and Learning Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • social connectedness
  • relatedness
  • competency
  • autonomy
  • online learning
  • higher education

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