Supporting Online Student Success
You can support student success in your online/remote, or blended course:
- Provide frequent, timely, helpful, and positive feedback.
- Identify and positively recognize specific things in learner’s work.
- Be helpful and encourage learners to do the right thing.
- Raise questions that make learners really examine their ideas and what they are studying.
- Be accessible.
- Be present.
- Be timely in your interactions and with your feedback.
- Offer supportive comments, compliments, and encouragements.
- Pose challenging questions.
- Encourage self-reflection and evaluation.
- Encourage peer evaluation.
- Provide options, and opportunities for learners to make choices in course assignments that allow them to relate their work to their real lives or to use their skills and interests.
- Encourage high levels of helpful interaction between learners.
- Encourage peer support, interaction, and collaboration in the course to address and alleviate the sense of isolation online learners may feel.
- Maintain high expectations and communicate them to learners.
- Provide a course schedule with assignments and due dates to make planning and time management easier.
- Use the grade book make student self-monitoring of progress in the course easier.
- Leverage early alerts systems, such as Starfish, to identify learners at risk and take preventive action.
- Provide exemplary examples, or model assignments to help learners better understand expectations for their work.
- Create an environment where learners feel they have access to you, their classmates, resources, and help – and where their questions can get answered.
- Recognize and acknowledge learner success, effort, and accomplishments with course work, life challenges, and with technology used in the course.
- Draw learner attention to how the skills they develop in your course and the material they learn will be useful in their real life, and will help them be successful in the future.
- Encourage and reinforce the need for managing time well.
- Ask learners for clarification to prevent misunderstanding.
- Provide opportunities and online course space for non-course related interactions between course participants.
- Make sure students know how to get technical help. Recommend that they get help immediately and early.
- Provide learners with information on tutoring services (e.g., https://brainly.com/) or where they can go to get help with their writing (campus writing center).
- Reassure learners that they can be successful in your blended/online course and give them tips on how (for example, collect stories and suggestions from learners in the form of advice for future course participants). Use strategies to foster Growth Mindset.
Proactive questions for online faculty to use on a “just-in-time” basis—at the moments when learners could use the prompting most. Helping learners know not just what is to be learned, but how.
- What is the topic for our online discussions in this module?
- What will be important ideas covered in this module?
- What do you already know about this topic?
- What can you relate this to in your life or experiences?
- What will you do to remember the key ideas from this reading, module, discussion, topic?
- Is there anything about this topic that you don’t understand, or are not clear about?
Adapted from – Askell-Williams, H., Lawson, M.J. and Skrzypiec, G., 2012. Scaffolding cognitive and metacognitive strategy instruction in regular class lessons. Instructional Science 40(2), 413-443. (Table 2, pgs 56-57).
Table: Traditional and adapted self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies used by online learners.
|SRL Strategies||Traditional||Online Adaptations|
Goal setting & planning
|Calendars and organizers; self-imposed deadlines; chunking work||Daily log-ons; coordination of online and off-line work; planning for tech. problems|
Performance & Self-Observation
Organizing & transforming instructional materials
Note taking; outlining; underlining or highlighting course texts; graphic organizers
Reducing distractions; relaxation techniques
Phone, email, or personal contact to get help from instructor, or peers
Charts and records of completed assignments and grades
Printing out course materials and discussions; off-line composing and editing of postings; sorting discussion threads; summarizing; self-tests; flashcards
Finding fast computer and Internet connection; creating a psychological place for class
Accessing technical expertise; peer contacts to reduce loneliness; web-based helpers; using student postings as models
Multiple back ups; tracking reading and writing for discussions; frequent checks of online grade book
Using checklists and rubrics; using instructor comments and grades
Success based on academic performance
|Using audience of peers to shape discussion postings
Success based on technical, social, academic performance
Adapted from – Whipp, J.L., Chiarelli, S. Self-Regulation in a Web-Based Course: A Case Study. Educational Technology Research and Development, Vol. 52, No. 4 (December 2004): 5-21.
Things you can do to be a successful online student:
Goal-Setting and Planning
As an online learner it is easy to become a procrastinator and feel as though you have all the time to get things done. It becomes even more important to make sure that one sets goals and plans when taking courses in a "blended" or "remote" learning environment, where there are both online and live/face-to-face activities to accomplish, and in which to participate.
Successful blended/remote/online learners report that they:
- Focus on careful time management.
- Use traditional goal setting and planning aids such as calendars and organizers to plan the timing of course activities and juggle multiple academic, professional, and personal demands.
- Feel the need to be in the course on almost a daily basis “to see what . . . new things are going on,” to check out responses to their postings.
- Login into the course at least 4–5 times each week.
- Spend time off-line planning what you are going to say.
- Really thinking things out before posting/responding in discussion.
- Plan to spend the first couple of days of the weekly course modules for checking the course schedule, printing out needed materials, and doing the required readings.
- Spend the first couple of days of each course module as it opens checking the course schedule, identifying what is due and when, printing out needed materials and doing the required readings.
- Compose responses off-line.
- Have a plan for inevitable technical problems, and allot extra time to deal with technology, especially at the beginning of the course, e.g., setting earlier deadlines for assignments to build in a time buffer in case something goes wrong.
- Daily logons.
- Coordination of online and off-line work.
- Anticipation and planning for technical problems.
- Use of a course calendar for important course dates and assignments.
- Use of automated calendaring for important course assignments, events, tasks.
- Use of smart phone features or web apps to assist with time management. (For example, Remember the Milk: https://www.rememberthemilk.com/
- Selection of course projects that have immediate real-life relevance.
- 14 time-management apps for students
- Time Management Tutorial
What can faculty do to help online learners not procrastinate, or to set goals and plan?
- Set up friendly reminders - announcements.
- Use a tool/app like Remind: https://www.remind.com/higher-education
- Create a tip of the day – post random announcements targeting suggestions to support the success strategies listed above.
- Create course community guidelines that scaffold a culture of support and online learner success in goal setting and planning.
Organizing & Transforming Instructional Materials
Successful online learners focus on the task and optimize their performance by systematically managing and rearranging their instructional materials to improve their learning. As a learner in a "blended or remote/online" course it becomes even more important to be organized and develop strategies to manage the materials used and created in both the face-to-face and online environments.
- Tips for organizing digital documents.
- Print out, sort, and mark up discussions.
- Print out and mark up course materials, readings, and assignments.
- Compose and edit discussion posts off-line, or google docs, so you can auto save, spell check, review and revise more easily, and save a copy to prevent loss of work and save work beyond the end of the course.
- Use the discussion sorting features to sort threads, authors, etc.
- Take notes. Outline. Underline.Summarize in your owns words.
- Leverage apps to manage, organize, and optimize instructional material. (For example, Symbaloo, Google drive, etc.)
What can faculty do to help online learners manage, organize, and optimize their instructional materials?
- Create a "Tip of the Week/Module " with links to suggestions for organize your learning materials.
- Recommend and use apps, like diigo, to help students understand how to support, manage, organize, and optimize their digital work/materials.
- If you adopt one of these tools, give online learners a task that makes them use it, to introduce the use of the tool, and expectations for continued use of the tool in other course learning activities.
Structuring the Learning Environment
In an online course learners are in unconventional settings for “class” – work, home, computer lab, library, etc. Learners in a "blended, or remote/online" course have both the unconventional and the conventional learning environments to deal with. Successful blended/remote/online learners structure and arrange their settings to make learning easier.
- Create a psychological time and place for the online part of class.
- Create a consistent schedule to attend and work on both the face-to-face and online components of the course.
- Self impose rules on interruptions, breaks, and time frames.
- Set up a quiet area in home to “go to class.”
- Have food/drink available/near by for breaks.
- Use public computer labs/spaces at times when there are not a lot of people around.
- Find/schedule time on a fast computer and internet connection at work/computer lab.
- Organize your study space.
What can faculty do to help online learners structure their learning environment?
- Recommend/require that your students complete your institutional online learner orientation. (For example, Learning Online Tutorial.)
- Don't make assumptions that your learners know how to do this, or that learners can do this. If possible, give learners the opportunity to let you know if they have home challenges in this area to deepen your understanding of student circumstances. Provide tips, such as, Organize your study space.
High achievers are distinguished by their use of their instructors and peers as sources of social support. Learners that use a variety of self-regulated learning strategies tend to seek help more frequently than do other learners. Learners in "blended or remote/online" courses have a variety of ways to access their instructors and peers for support and to get help. Successful learners in "blended/remote/online” environments can help themselves by asking for help from instructors and using classmates for support.
- Seek help to clarify expectations on assignments.
- Check on your progress using the online mechanisms of the course, and inquiring with the instructor via their preferred methods.
- Collaborate with others on assignments.
- Get feedback on writing drafts from the tutoring center, peers, or family.
- Seek on- and off-line interaction with your instructor as necessary.
- Get frequent and timely feedback from your instructor, especially if you don't understand how to improve.
- Access technical expertise in a timely way.
- Seek and offer technical assistance from/to classmates.
- Contact peers to reduce loneliness and to keep motivated.
- Use course features and areas designed to facilitate networking and connect with classmates.
- Access peers for help as needed.
- Use web-based help sources.
- Use reputable web sources to clarify concepts and terms from course materials/readings.
- Use peer posts as models.
- Use models of exemplary assignments posted in the course.
- Compare work, or work in progress, with that of classmates.
- Be sure you fully understand expectations for assignments and how they will be evaluated. If you have any doubt or question, ask for additional clarification from the instructor.
- Be clear and explicit in your expectations and instructions for all course activities, assignments, conduct, use of tools, due dates, assessments, feedback, time frames, preferred methods of contact/communication, etc.
- Make learners feel comfortable by clarifying expectations, instructions, and your preferred methods for them to contact you.
- Hold virtual office hours, explain what they are, and set up appointments for the first session with each learner, so they know what to do and how to do it.
- Make sure learners know how they can help each other. Create a space for study groups or where learners can ask each other for help in your course.
- Make sure learners know that tech help is available, and provide links on how to access help resources.
- Make sure learners know what other help is available and provided by the you, the department, and the institution, and provide links/info on how to access it.
- Create an area in the course where learners are encouraged to help each other, and where they feel free to engage and interact with each other.
- Check your assumptions about what learners may or may not know. Be aware of and try to anticipate the challenges faced by 1st generation learners. Take a look at this twitter thread about what first generation students don't know.
Self-Monitoring & Record-Keeping
Self-monitoring refers to learner-initiated efforts to record events or results. Successful online learners regularly calculate their grades, and keep paper and electronic records of completed assignments. Learners in "blended, or remote/online" courses have both online and offline ways to track grades and assignments.
- Frequently check the online grade book.
- Use features in your LMS to monitor your progress.
- Check with your instructor if you have any question regarding expectations, requirements, assignments, grades, or course progress.
- Back up your course submissions, assignments, and discussion posts out side the LMS, for example in Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, One Drive, etc.
- Save all submissions on computer, external drive, or to the cloud.
- Leverage technology and the web to auto save and store course work.
- Monitor your reading and writing for online discussions.
- Take extra precautions and monitor the technical aspects of completing and submitting assignments/posts, e.g., after submitting a post, check to see if it was posted and in the correct location.
- Compare numbers of submission posts/comments/replies with fellow classmates.
- Track what posts have been read/unread and what posts you have read/not yet read.
- Review expectations, due dates, examples, and instructions provided for each course assignment/activity.
- Review feedback on course assignments to determine areas for improvement.
What can faculty do to help online learners self monitor?
- Post a link to the grade book prominently and direct learners to it.
- Suggest that learners use the LMS tools to monitor their progress.
- Create clear and thorough expectations and instructions for all course activities/assignments.
- Provide models/examples of high quality submissions/work/posts/projects.
- Create/provide rubrics to help learners self monitor their contributions.
- Provide frequent/timely feedback to help learners improve their performance/contributions.
- Advise learners to do their work off line in Word file, or on online in something that auto saves, to prevent unexpected loss of work, and to review and revise work well prior to submission.
- Advise learners to keep backups of their work in Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, One Drive, etc.
- Use the features in the LMS/grade book consistently to provide helpful feedback to learners on how to improve.
Self-reflection involves evaluating one’s own performance and attributing causal significance to the results. The result of self-reflection includes level of satisfaction and inferences made about how one needs to alter self-regulated learning strategies in future efforts to learn, or perform. In a "blended or remote/online" learning environment learners have unique access to online peer interactions, and frequent reactions from classmates in discussions, to add input to their own self-reflections, in addition to any face-to-face opportunities for interactions. Successful learners think about how they learn, what they have learned, how they can apply what they have learned in new contexts, and what contributes to or hinders their learning, so they can take actions to improve their outcomes.
- Use assignment self-tests, checklists, and/or rubrics to make judgments about performance in assignments.
- Use instructor feedback and grades to gauge progress in course.
- Use self-reflection strategies, such as self-evaluation, and peer feedback, to assess performance.
- Use an audience of peers to shape your discussion postings.
- Use continuous feedback from peers to make judgments about the quality of your own work.
- Use continuous feedback to help make sure you understand and are on the right page.
- Use the number of comments received on a post as a measure of effectiveness.
- Feel pride in contributing something substantive to the discussion.
- Use peers to add incentive for continuous self-evaluation of discussion postings, e.g., taking extra care to reread and edit posts submitted for discussion and thinking about classmates that will read the posts.
- Leverage apps and technologies, such as journals/blogging (using tools like Wordpress, or edublogs), to build self awareness and to keep metacognitive reflections about your online educational experiences, for example, Alicia's Student blog: Transformation via Online Learning.
What can faculty do to help learners self reflect?
- Encourage learners to keep a blog (reflections journal) about their experiences in your online course/their online educational experiences. Keep one yourself, e.g., ETAP 640: Sharing what I know.
- Encourage learners to use their peers for feedback and support. Create spaces in your course for that purpose.
- Encourage learners to feel pride in their accomplishments. Send individualized notes of encouragement to students at the start, midway and/or towards the end of the course.
- Use the LMS features to provide feedback and to encourage learners to self assess, and make adjustments.
- Check Metacognitive Blogging in Online Instruction for some ideas.
Learners that consistently use Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) strategies believe that they are competent, efficacious, and autonomous.
Online learners worry about:
- Potential procrastination.
- Being misunderstood.
- Being seen/heard.
- Access to the instructor.
- Asking and getting extra help or clarification.
- Isolation and missing social contact and interaction.
- Their technical expertise, and having technical problems.
- Their writing skills.
- Their ability to be successful in a fully online course.
- Observe others successfully using self-regulated learning strategies.
- Seek helpful feedback on your own strategy use.
- Experience success with particular learning tasks.
- Get early access to tech and tutorial support. Ask for help or where to find it if you need it.
- Experience early success with the technical and writing demands of the course.
- Use course tools and spaces to connect and interact with the instructor and classmates.
- Develop technical and writing competence, so you feel less dependent.
- Develop tolerance for technical issues, constructive feedback, and the willingness to revise work.
- Develop the ability to troubleshoot technical problems, and change approaches to improve outcomes/performance.
Online instructors can create a supportive online learning environment by:
- Making sure learners are informed about strategies and resources available to them that will help them be successful (e.g., tutoring centers, time management, and organization skills and tools, etc.)
- Helping learners feel supported and connected to you, their classmates, and their campus.
- Making sure learners know that their online educational success is important to all of us.
- Building ways for learners to feel connected to others in the course, department, institution, or system, who are also learning online.
- Making sure that learners feel comfortable enough online to:
- Ask for help, share their concerns, ask questions, give suggestions.
- Self disclose, initiate connections with classmates, and participate in forums.
- Create and share content. Question their assumptions. Cite sources. Make their thinking and learning visible and open to feedback, correction, and iteration.
- Demonstrating that the instructor has confidence in their abilities to succeed.
- Making sure that learners experience positive and successful interactions with the instructor.
- Providing information to ensure that learners are empowered and able to get early access to tech and writing support.
- Designing online experiences to scaffold early success with the technical and writing demands of the course.
- Encouraging learners to develop technical and writing competence and confidence, so they feel less dependent on help sources, the instructor, or other.
- Modeling behaviors (such an acknowledging and planning) and encouraging learners to develop tolerance for technical issues.
- Demonstrating and encouraging learners to develop the ability to troubleshoot technical problems.
- Providing clear instructions, expectations, examples of high quality assignments as models, early feedback on drafts, detailed rubrics, and multiple opportunities to revise and improve assignments/grades. Using a tool like the workload estimator can help online instructors make sure that the amount of work and time actually required to complete the course as designed is actually do-able/reasonable for the the number of credit hours of the course.
Goal Orientation, Interests & Attributions
Successful online students tend to focus more on learning progress, than on competitive outcomes – i.e., mastery, rather than performance goals. They are able to relate to and tie their learning and course contributions to real life interests and experiences. And they attribute their success and learning to their level of effort, rather than to a fixed perception of intelligence or ability.Successful online learners:*
- Organize their time to manage their learning in the course.
- Make plans for how to do the activities in the course.
- Draw pictures or diagrams to help them understand the course topics.
- Make up questions that they try to answer about the course topics.
- When learning something new in the course, they think back to what they already know about it.
- Discuss what they are learning in the course with others.
- Practice things over and over until they know them well in the subject.
- Use tools/technology to support their efforts.
- Think about their learning, to better understand what helps or hinders their understanding.
- Make a note of things that they don’t understand very well in the subject, so that they can follow them up.
- When they don’t understand something in this subject, they go back over it again.
- They ask for help, if they need it. They know where to find help.
- They check their progress, deadlines, and grades regularly.
- When the finish an activity in the course, they look back to see how well the did.
- They use feedback to improve their understanding and performance.
- They endeavor to tie their contributions, projects, and activities in the course to their specific areas of interest, and to their real life.
- They see that their level of effort has a direct impact on their success and learning.
*Adapted from Annie Murphy Paul, Do Students Know Enough Smart Learning Strategies?. March 22, 2012, Source: KQED/Mindshift: http://mindshift.kqed.org/2012/03/do-students-know-enough-smart-learning-strategies/
- Attempt to connect course projects to areas of interest/focus that have immediate real-life relevance.
- Frame course interactions and responses in discussion from your areas of interest to support and influence your motivation.
- Use course activities, projects, interactions to make your thinking and learning visible, to invite feedback for improvements, and to improve your skills and understanding.
- If you are struggling with doing something in one particular way, try a different approach, seek suggestions from peers, the instructor, the tutoring center.
- Practice a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset.
What can faculty do to support learner success and positive online learner goal orientation, real-life relevance, and a focus on effort?
- Develop projects, assignments, activities that allow learners to see, or adapt to have immediate real-life real-world relevance and application, such as service learning, experiential learning, or the ability for learners to choose topics of interest, or the manner in which they make their learning visible. Give learners choices in how they demonstrate their thinking and learning.
- Allow learners to frame their contributions from their areas of interest within the course context. Discussions and interaction that have significance to the specific learner interests will positively influence motivation.
- Provide opportunities for discussion, interaction, and collaboration throughout the course.
- Create opportunities for learners to self-reflect.
- Guide learners to attribute their level of success/achievement/ performance to their level of effort. (Growth mindset).
- Provide feedback that reinforces that their effort is the primary reason for success. (Growth mindset).
- Help learners feel empowered to adapt their learning strategies for better outcomes in the future.
- Provide frequent, helpful, and positive information and interactions.
- Be helpful. Be accessible. Be present.
- Offer supportive comments, compliments, and encouragements.
- Identify and positively encourage specific things in learners’ lives, academic progress, engagement, etc.
- Devise activities that support peer networking and interaction.
- Encourage high levels of helpful interaction between learners to foster peer to peer networking. Create specific areas in the course designated for this, such as an Ask a Question forum.
- Encourage peer support, interaction, and collaboration to address and alleviate the sense of isolation online students feel, such as a course "Coffee Shop," Bulletin Board, or Class Community area.
- Interact and anticipate learner questions and issues, by putting yourself in the learner's role/adopting a student lens to check instructions, assumptions, course information.
- Provide information to make planning and time management easier.
- Encourage the use of the grade book, early alerts system, and other tools to make self-monitoring of progress in the course easier.
- Model exemplary use of the features and functionalities of the course LMS, tools and resources.
- Create a learning environment where learners feel they have access to you, their classmates, resources, and help, and where their questions can get answered.
- Check your assumptions, ask questions, and listen. Endeavor to connect.
- Support access, equity, and equality.
- Simple suggestion: Share your preferred name (the way you want to be addressed) and your pronouns. Ask course participants for theirs, and then use them. By sharing your pronouns, you normalize the practice and allow learners, who might not otherwise feel comfortable doing so, the understanding that your class is safe and open to them. Sharing your preferred name and using theirs, is an expression of mutual respect.
NGLC SUNY Blend Project 2011-2013 – Revised July 2, 2020. Adapted by Alexandra M. Pickett from Whipp, J.L., Chiarelli, S. Self-Regulation in a Web-Based Course: A Case Study. Educational Technology Research and Development, Vol. 52, No. 4 (December 2004): 5-21.
Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
- How To Be Successful in Online Classes During COVID-19 – DeVry University
- 10 Tips to Support Students in a Stressful Shift to Online Learning – Chronicle of Higher Ed.
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- When the Tide Goes Out: Identifying and Supporting Struggling Students in Online Courses
- How to Help Struggling Students Succeed Online
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- How to study effectively