Tips for Student Success

ne of the simplest solutions for stemming online dropout and failure rates is to simply have students read their course syllabuses before getting into the actual online activities. As old fashioned as this strategy sounds, David L. Stoloff, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, CT, said reinforcing it in the distance space can go a long way in keeping pupils on track and engaged in their coursework.

“When you start out on the right foot – with a personal welcome from an instructor and directions on how to read the course syllabus – you can ward off many of the engagement issues associated with online learning,” said Stoloff. “They need to understand that the syllabus is a contract and that there’s no shame in dropping a course quickly and getting a refund if the commitment can’t be fulfilled.” Other good strategies include outlining time commitments, explaining expected completion timeframes, and going over course expectations in advance – just like a professor would on the first day of class in a traditional setting.

When it comes to technology tools, Stoloff said online discussion groups – which are typically enabled by a college’s learning management system (LMS) – help create a collaborative, online learning environment. In fact, Stoloff said that in most of his classes discussion group participation makes up 10-20 percent of a student’s total grade. “They’re required to participate regularly,” said Stoloff. “When someone drops off, it’s easy for me to see that he or she isn’t ‘actively’ learning.”

When those drop-offs occur, Stoloff uses the e-mail function within Eastern Connecticut State University’s LMS to contact students, remind them to participate, or suggest a course withdrawal or other action. In some cases, he’ll invite students to visit him in person to discuss the lack of active participation and any problems they may be having with the course. “In most cases,” he said, “the student isn’t participating and/or passing the class because he or she hasn’t put in the effort.”

With 18 percent of undergraduate students predicted to receive 80 percent or more of their education through online courses this year, according to EdTechReview, now is the time for institutions to develop the foundational tools needed to keep pupils engaged, on track, and successful online. “Ignore this step,” Viecelli-Stimpson warned, “and it becomes way too easy for students to sit back and let things go until the end of the semester. By then it’s too late.”


The Human Element of Online Learning

Diane Johnson, assistant director of faculty services for the Center for Online Learning at Saint Leo University, offers these seven tips for creating an engaging online education offering:

  1. Remember that the human element is the most important tool to keeping online learners enrolled and engaged in your program.
  2. Before hiring any new faculty, make sure that person is caring and student-focused.
  3. Faculty members must build relationships with each student and let them know that they really care about the individual’s education and success.
  4. Students must know they are not just a name out in cyberspace, but that they are really human beings who are on the other side of the screen.
  5. Instructional immediacy is paramount. “We require faculty to respond to student inquiries in a maximum of 24-36 hours,” says Johnson.
  6. If a student misses a deadline, instead of blaming the student with an accusatory “Why didn’t you meet this assignment?” a much better approach is to ask, “Are you okay?”
  7. When you build a trusting relationship and invest in the student, he or she is more likely to invest more in the course.