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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Setting Up An Online Learning Experience

How is perception of an online environment built? Is it similar to perception when an individual meets someone for the first time? I believe it is. With all the social media that is swirling around in our midst, shouldn’t an online learning environment be a great hang out to chat and learn? If so, why do they seem so boring and unfriendly? Let’s look at a couple things.

Online learning communities can significantly impact both a student’s learning and satisfaction within an online course. What research is showing is that many online environments are doing much the opposite of support. Vesely, Bloom. & Sherlock state that student “dropout rates are often 10-20% higher than in traditional courses [due to] feelings of isolation” (2007). Since humans are social beings it stands to reason why a feeling of isolation may prompt students to drop out. I believe that many times educational facilities tend to throw classes up in an online environment without doing the proper research to facilitate and grow the experience. They end up treating the online experience much like a correspondence course conducted via snail mail. 

Before even going as far as putting a course online it is essential to first do some RESEARCH! Understand what type of technology is out there that can be used such as Learning Management Systems (LMS) or Content Management Systems (CMS). Find out what these will do for you and how you can incorporate other technology tools into these learning systems. By doing the research ahead of time, you can determine what you need in order to have an effective online course.
How can those in charge of online learning communities change this perception of isolation? Below are some essential elements to building a community online. First Vesley, Bloom & Sherlock believe that it is important to include the following within the community:

“1) A sense of shared purpose
2) Establishment of boundaries defining who is a member and who is not
3) Establishment and enforcement of rules/policies regarding community behavior
4) Interaction among members
5) A level of trust, respect and support among community members” (2007)

Most of all, make sure that you communicate the expectations to your class so that they understand what they need to do to be successful and what you are going to do to support them to be successful!
The list above is a pretty good start to something that can be great! Don’t you think? Let’s dive a little further! 

Let’s say that you found this great class but you don’t have time to go to the local university because of work and other obligations. When you are about to give up, you find out that there is the same class offered online in the evening. You think, “Great, I can take that one and have the same experience, not pay for parking, commuting, etc.” You jump online to sign up and pay for the class. You receive a notice that your payment was received and when it will start. As the class gets closer, you wonder how this whole “online thing” works. A week before class is supposed to start you get an email stating how to log into the class and what to expect. Now, you are even more excited because it seems like it is going to be great. You are sure that you will meet a lot of other people that will share your same interest. The day the class starts, you get home and jump onto the class! You are ready to chat. When you log in, there is no one there except a screen that says “Welcome…” You notice some icons on the left side..but what does it mean? How do you find out what assignments there are? Where is all the FUN and COMMUNICATION!!!

If this sounds like you, take heart you are not alone! If you are an instructor, wake up and do something! Below are some essential online course elements that can be used according to Boettcher & Conrad.

1.      “Course launch preparations:
a.       Syllabus – bird’s eye view of the entire class
b.      Teaching guides – audio or video introductions or lectures for class to view
c.       Discussion & Rubrics – develop questions and how the class will be graded on their participation
d.      Course site – Provide course map, how to navigate, etc.
e.       Provide course material – resources, projects, schedule of activities, technology tools, etc.
2.      First Week of Course
a.       Introduce yourself via video or through an email.
b.      Provide a student lounge or place for the students to meet one another
c.       Have collaboration time between students” (2010)

If that is not enough to get you started, here are seven more things you can do:
“Seven Principles of Good Practice for Online Learning – Encourage contact between students and yourself (the instructor), develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, encourage active learning, give prompt feedback, emphasize time on task, communicate expectations, and respect diverse talents and ways of learning” (Vesley, Bloom & Sherlock, 2007)

Is this enough to keep someone from dropping out of the class? No, it is not. It is a start and you have to start somewhere.

After reading this you may be thinking, well, this is not exactly what I wanted to hear. I want the perfect answer to make the online learning experience so incredible that I have people lined up to come into my classroom. I hear you! I think we are on just the baseline of what an online course needs to have. Without some of these essentials elements set up (normally they are in the background) you can’t have that wonderful class that you dreaming to provide.

At the beginning, I asked you about perception. Expectations are many times built on our perceptions of a situation. In turn, both are built on many different attributes such as: technology, course set-up, instructor involvement, etc. The good news is that technology is changing in today’s environment and we “as instructors” can utilize the technology that is common to the typical person out there. This communication is ESSENTIAL to a class being fulfilling to the student. I think that is why you are seeing a lot of classes beginning to provide blended learning – learning that is online and in person; webinars in which you can view the instructor and ask questions, have polling and quizzes.

How does this all fit within getting the student to be satisfied with the class and come back? If an instructor can build their class in such a way that the students feel involved, supported, part of something big, and able to interact then you will more than likely keep them interested and coming back. A lot of groundwork and using instructional design methodology has to be an essential piece of the puzzle being constructed in order for the online community to be built and supply an effective online learning arena. Anyone can throw a class on the web, but having one that meets the needs of the students is another thing!

What ideas do you have that can make the online community better? Are there technology tools that are not being used that you think should be? If so, what?


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Vesely, P., Bloom, L. & Sherlock, J. (2007). Key Elements of Building Online Community: Comparing Faculty and Student Perception. Merlot Journal of Online Learning. Vol. 3. No 3. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Teri,
    My favorite part "and what you are going to do to support them to be successful!". I think often we get in the habit of an either or situation. The student is responsible for their success, or we are. I really don't think, as you noted, that it can be one sided. It HAS to be both parties working together to accomplish a goal. I've been in a lot of classes where the teacher provided no support at all, and then blamed the lack of success on the students. I've also been in classes where the teacher dragged people along, and then complained that people weren't learning. A good support structure from the teacher, with clear goals, and an energized and active class. That is what we want.
    Well done.

  2. Hey Teri,
    I think the most eye-opening part of all of this that communication and community keep coming to the forefront of what makes an online class successful. Most people would think that it is interesting and relevant course material presented in an engaging manor that would keep the student in their seat.
    But the more and more we get into what is actually keeping the students in the classroom and involved is the sense of belonging and being recognized as a person and not just a number on a roster (Laureate Education, 2010).

    As I work on developing curriculum in the future, I will make sure to spend a large portion of the setting up of the course engaging the students on a personal basis.

    Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experience [Motion Picture]. Retrieved from

  3. Hi Teri,
    Just a quick suggestion in answer to your question about what technology isn't yet being used but could benefit the online learning environment. I have used a really simple program called to share information with my middle school students via text messaging, which is by far their favorite mode of communicating. The program allows me to create a 'class' and students sign up (for free) by entering their name and cellphone number. Then, I can schedule reminders to go out to them (you have a quiz tomorrow - don't forget to study) or I can input and send a reminder on the spot if something comes up. It allows me to text-blast the whole class at once or to select certain students. The best part is that I don't have to know their cellphone numbers and they don't know mine, so the privacy is somewhat intact. They receive the text, but can't reply directly to my phone because the text is generated from the program. If they have further questions, they can log onto my website or send me an email. I've found it's a really easy way to get information out quickly and keep them engaged. I think it could easily be incorporated into online adult learning courses.

    Thanks for sharing,

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Thank you for the information on That sounds like a great way to stay in contact with your students!

  4. Teri,
    This was a fun post. Your writing style is so lively I felt like I was interacting with you while reading it. You bring up a number of great points about launching an online course. The other day I was helping a student at my college log into his online precalculus course, which had begun a few days before. The student had never taken an online course, and he wasn’t sure where to look for his assignment. The experience turned out to be exactly what NOT to do when launching a course. When he logged in, nothing was there except the dates of each week of the course. Not even the instructor’s name was there. The student felt so lost and discouraged. I had to send him to the math department to find out what was happening. Fortunately the student was on campus; if he was a remote student it would have been much worse. A welcome email and getting acquainted post from the instructor would have gone a long way here. More use of Skype or Google Hangouts would have helped this student. Many of our students like a high touch environment. Sometimes a live verbal conversation is the best way to resolve an issue. Thanks for a great post.