A new virtual learning environment (VLE) was developed to provide structured support to distance education students undertaking postgraduate study on a core study module of the Master of Education degree at the University of Dundee. Students were offered the option of receiving support via the VLE as opposed to the existing methods, that included face-to-face meetings, letters, emails and telephone contact. Of the 47 students in the study sample, 31 opted to receive support via the VLE and 16 opted to receive support through the existing methods. These groups became self-selecting sample and control groups respectively. The article details investigations into the nature of the online learning community that developed as a result of these initiatives. It explores the patterns of use of the VLE by students in the sample group. It also explores the ‘connectedness’ of the students who engaged in study via the VLE using a validated instrument. Results indicated that students who actively engaged with online learning via a VLE reported a heightened sense of feeling connected as part of a wider learning community. Results also indicated that these students had higher successful academic completion rates than students who did not receive support via the VLE.