In a time of growing uncertainty, the upcoming decade will require us to continue to adapt, monitor, and change to prepare university students for future careers and employment. For universities/educators new to online learning there are a number of questions to begin with. Where is the best palace to start with making the transition to online learning? How can colleges and universities best support students to pursue their degrees online?
With remote learning opening up even more opportunities than before, learners have more options than ever to consider in higher education, and they are enrolling with specific needs and goals in mind.
In our experience, these are the top 4 considerations for universities when moving online:
- Focus on engaging learning design
- Foster a sense of community
- Consider the specific needs of your students
- Create supportive systems and processes
Focus on engaging learning design
It has long been established that student outcomes are best supported by learning design that is learner-centred and interactive. In the online setting key interactions are those that occur between student and content, between student and student, and between student and facilitator (Bernard, et al, 2009).
More recent studies of learner outcomes in diverse contexts, including tertiary education, conclude that student-facilitator interaction—as described in the high touch models in our blog: Considerations for choosing online learning delivery models—increases student satisfaction, motivation and academic achievement (Protopsaltis and Baum, 2019).
Low touch elearning models, such as MOOCs, continue to yield extremely low retention and completion rates (Reich and Ruipérez-Valiente, 2019). While relatively cheap, low touch models have also been found (along with low-quality interactive design) to exacerbate poor learning outcomes for disadvantaged students who have limited academic preparation and limited resources (Alpert, et al, 2016; Bowen, et al, 2014).
Foster a sense of community
A key theme emerging from the literature surrounding online learning at universities is the importance of student-faculty interaction. Researchers, as well as proponents and sceptics of online education, emphasize the need to design online courses that facilitate robust interactions as an essential component for improving the quality of learning, student outcomes, and satisfaction.
At Oppida, we have seen how high touch online delivery models can lead to strong student outcomes if interaction focuses on meaningful, cognitively challenging interactions among students as well as between students and facilitators. Indeed, high-quality interpersonal interaction is what online students around the world demand (Protopsaltis and Baum, 2019). How you do this in your course depends often on the capability of the LMS and or the creativity of the facilitator!
Consider the specific needs of your students
For example, we have worked with a number of universities designing courses for postgraduate students. These students are often returning to university study after a period in the workplace, where they may have held very senior roles and they may be continuing to work full-time. The demands of post-graduate study are very different to that of undergraduate study, and they also differ from workplace training and professional development courses. So, different learning design and a different delivery approach is required.
Research into student-facilitator interactions specific to Masters-level online courses highlights unique areas of consideration for post-graduate students (Joyner, et al, 2014). The studies demonstrate the need, especially for students new to the online environment, for a high degree of communication to help with the simultaneous transition to both elearning and post-graduate level academic expectations. Students at this level may also seek deeper, mentoring-style relationships with academic staff to support higher-level research and critical thinking skill development, as well as career-related guidance.
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Create supportive systems and processes
Universities worldwide are making the transition to interactive online learning models. This is a significant change effort that requires a shift in the use of staff time and, hence, resourcing. For online courses, less time is spent on course presentation and more time is required for design and planning (Daniel and Uvalić‐Trumbić, 2014). Also critical to student success is a faculty-wide culture of collaboration (within schools, across disciplines and with external providers) and support for the continuous professional learning of academic and non-academic staff involved in the development and delivery of online courses (Martin and Rossman, 2018; Strikwerda, 2019).
The global coronavirus crisis may have sped up the adoption rate for moving to online learning models but the demand for online programs was there any way in 2020—according to BestColleges sixth annual Online Education Trends report—from both employees (72%) and students (71%). In the same report, 99% of administrators say they saw an increase in the demand last year or it has stayed the same in the past few years (Online Education Trends Report, 2020).
Student satisfaction with online learning is also high: overall, 94% say it has, or they believe it will have, a positive ROI, and 95% would highly recommend online education to others (Online Education Trends Report, 2020). With students needing strong online educational offerings and universities quickly embracing new tools and platforms, online learning during the coronavirus outbreak will only develop more rapidly. The hope is that the increased adoption continues past the crisis and quality learning design for online courses becomes an integral part of our future ‘new normal’.
Alpert, W., Couch, K., Harmon, O. (2016). A Randomized Assessment of Online Learning. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings 106(5), 378-382.
Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E. C., Wade, C. A., Tamim, R. M., Surkes M. A., Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1243-1289.
BestColleges. (2020). Online Education Trends Report. Retrieved from https://res.cloudinary.com/highereducation/image/upload/v1584979511/BestColleges.com/edutrends/2020-Online-Trends-in-Education-Report-BestColleges.pdf
Bowen, W., Chingos, M. M., Lack, K. A., Nygren, T. I. (2014). Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from a Six‐Campus Randomized Trial. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 33(1): 94–111.
Daniel, J. and Uvalić‐Trumbić, S. ed (2014). A guide to quality in online learning. British Journal of Educational Technology 45(1). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330442019_Does_Online_Education_Live_Up_to_Its_Promise_A_Look_at_the_Evidence_and_Implications_for_Federal_Policy
Joyner, S. A., Fuller, M. B., Holzweiss, P. C., Henderson, S., Young R. (2014). The importance of student-instructor connections in graduate level online courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(3): 436-445.
Martin, K. and Rossman, D. (2018). Faculty collaboration and technology in the Liberal Arts. Ithaka S&R. Retrieved from https://sr.ithaka.org/publications/faculty-collaboration-and-technology-in-the-liberal-arts/
Protopsaltis, S. & Baum, S. (2019). Does online education live up to its promise? A look at the evidence and implications for federal policy. George Mason University. Retrieved from https://mason.gmu.edu/~sprotops/OnlineEd.pdf
Reich, J., Ruipérez-Valiente, J. A. (2019). The MOOC pivot. Science 363: 130-131.
Strikwerda, C. J. (2019). Faculty members are the key to solving the retention challenge. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2019/09/04/faculty-must-play-bigger-role-student-retention-and-success-opinion