Online learning presents an opportunity to expand access to higher education to traditionally underrepresented students. However the challenges for these students may persist even when study is undertaken off campus. Fostering a sense of belonging and personal connection to learning may present a way to improve the learning experience and retention of these students, especially in the first year. In a qualitative study of university students from non-traditional backgrounds and academics, sense of belonging was found as a characteristic highly valued in online courses. How sense of belonging was understood and experienced by students, and the strategies used by academics to foster belonging in online learning are discussed.