Supporting Student Success in Online Learning

By: Dov Friedman

Editors Note:

Getting Smart is excited to support and celebrate Digital Learning Day today! There are educators around the country supporting students in powerful ways online. We appreciated Dov’s thoughts on how we can continue to improve online and blended interactions with students. For more ways to improve online learning and connect with others check out the Digital Learning Annual Conference.  

Online learning gives students convenience and flexibility, which is especially critical for adult students who work and are returning to school. But there are a number of barriers standing in the way of student success in an online environment.

Some of the biggest barriers to success include engaging and supporting online learners and making sure they can navigate the technology easily. In the Journal of Learning Design, researcher Jenna Gillett-Swan writes: “The online environment presents added challenges for the external or isolated learner, particularly [with respect to] engagement, access, community, and support.” The issues that online learners experience, she writes, include “anxiety associated with using technology; being out of one’s comfort zone; … and the (perceived) inability or difficulty in peer interaction.”

But these challenges aren’t limited to students, Gillett-Swan notes: “Many academic staff members feel apprehensive and not suitably equipped to teach via wholly (or mostly) online, particularly as they themselves may be still learning to use some of the platforms.”

Instructors and their institutions play a vital role in supporting student success in an online environment. Because students can feel isolated when they’re learning online, instructors must build in opportunities for students to experience a sense of community with each other and with the instructor. And because the technology can serve as a barrier for both students and instructors, colleges and universities must make sure their online learning platforms and applications are easy to use and work together seamlessly.

Here are three ways to address these needs.

Add face time to online courses.

Research shows that when students have opportunities to interact with each other and their instructor, they are more engaged in online learning. “Students need to feel connected to the instructor and other students in the course … as well as to the content being studied,” writes Marcia D. Dixson of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

This interaction can take many forms, such as group assignments and discussion forums. But one method that is particularly effective is video communication through a live online conferencing service such as Zoom or WebEx.

Video communication between instructors and their students (and between students and their peers) reduces the sense of isolation in an online course because it simulates a face-to-face learning environment—and it’s a more intimate form of communication. Instructors can use live video communication to increase student engagement in online courses by having students take part in group study sessions and class discussions, among other activities.

Build in virtual office hours and other student supports.

Creating support structures is an effective way to improve student success in traditional learning environments—and the same holds true for online courses.

A key strategy is to hold virtual office hours or live tutoring sessions with students who are struggling, and conferencing services such as Zoom or WebEx can be useful platforms for convening these meetings. Other student support methods include peer tutoring; posting links to supporting resources, such as study guides and habits for online learning success; and assigning a “success coach” to each online learner.

Make the technology as seamless to use as possible.

Too often, the technology that is meant to support online learning gets in the way of effective instruction. If online learning tools aren’t easy to operate, then students and instructors are less likely to use them. Colleges and universities can solve this challenge by investing in easy-to-use technologies and making sure they work together seamlessly, without extra steps required on the part of users.

For instance, although video conferencing can engage students and create a sense of community within online courses, scheduling and launching a conference can be unwieldy—especially if there is no integration between the conferencing platform that an instructor wants to use and the institution’s learning management system.

Without this integration, instructors would have to set up a meeting within Zoom, WebEx, or another conferencing platform, then copy the meeting link and post it within the LMS. Or, they could import their class roster into the conferencing platform and invite students to participate, but they would have to hope that students are checking their email regularly and have seen the invitation. When the session is over, they would have to export a link to the session recording and send it to students via email, or else upload it to the LMS so that students can access it alongside their other course materials.

The entire process of navigating between the conferencing platform and the LMS can be very cumbersome, especially for instructors who aren’t well versed in teaching with this particular set of technologies. As a result, many instructors are discouraged from even trying. However, if instructors had an easy way to schedule secure video conferences from directly within the LMS, they would be more likely to use live video to engage students. What’s more, students who are registered in the course would have automatic, one-click access to these scheduled and archived video conferences within the LMS as well—without having to receive or accept a separate invitation.

Student engagement, support, and comfort with technology are common challenges to learning in an online environment. Building opportunities for students to engage with each other and with the instructor through live video—and making this process simple and seamless for everyone involved—can help overcome these barriers and lead to greater student success.

If you’re looking for other ways to connect with and learn from other online learning experts, check out the inaugural Digital Learning Annual Conference happening in Austin, TX. April 1-3, 2019. Here are 4 reasons to attend.

For more, See:

Dov Friedman is a co-founder and vice president of business development for CirQlive. Click here to connect with Dov on LinkedIn.

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Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

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1 Comment

Mayce Hye

Yes, As a tutor I agree with you that if we are creating support structures that will definitely improve student success in traditional learning environments. Thank You for sharing the informative content with us.


Dov Friedman

It was my pleasure and honor to write this article. Thank you for your thoughtful comments

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