Online learning is picking up speed in higher education as a college experience offering more flexibility and convenience for students and teachers alike, as well as opening doors to students who may not be able to attend classes on campus.
However, not every online program may be up to par with traditional higher education offerings, causing a negative perception of an otherwise useful alternative for students.
In a recent survey from customer experience design agency Verndale, 60 percent of respondents ages 18-23 say they have taken an online class. However, seven in 10 believe online classes do not provide a true college experience.
With 80 percent of respondents willing to consider participating in an online education program, universities will need to step up their game to provide digital students with as many resources and opportunities as those available to those on campus.
To help universities create the best online learning curricula they can, the Online Learning Consortium, along with the State University System of Florida and the Florida College System, created a student support checklist.
“The most difficult part of providing excellent online student support institution-wide is achieving cooperation from the diverse service areas across the institution,” said Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D., chief strategy officer at the Online Learning Consortium in an announcement. “Our new scorecard overcomes this challenge by acting as an internal conversation starter, which helps an institution coalesce around a commitment to providing the same level of support to their online-learner community as those who are on campus.”
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Offer Students the Online Tools They Need to Succeed
Online components for universities should cover the entire timeline of a student’s higher education experience, for those who spend their entire academic careers remotely as well as those who will eventually make the transition to campus life, according to the OLC’s checklist.
“Improvements to support for online students can benefit all students,” Josh Strigle, director of e-learning and learning support centers at the College of Central Florida, said in the statement. “That’s why the scorecard and associated materials have been designed to help improve the experience of every student.”
The checklist covers key areas for student success, from advising to veterans’ services. Here are some of the most crucial points it makes for running a successful online higher education program:
- Admissions: Many prospective students for both remote and on-campus pathways may not be able to visit a university’s campus in person. Institutions should have an online portal for students to easily access class and campus information, including a virtual campus tour, as well as a place to direct questions they may have about academics. For smaller colleges that may not be able to sacrifice staff time to answering all prospective student questions, AI chatbots are a good alternative that can also cut down on the number of students who sign up for classes but never show up.
- Financial Aid: According to a recent survey from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, only 40 percent of students coming into a four-year institution, and 45 percent of those entering a two-year institution, had ever participated in formal financial literacy training. According to OLC recommendations, universities ideally will provide opportunities for online students to contact with financial aid advisers, as well online tools including mobile services, to inform students of their options.
- Advising: As with financial aid, students will need assistance in enrolling for their first courses. Institutions should have online architecture in place to support video chat between advisers and students, and also make sure students have easy access to online enrollment tools, placement testing, degree auditing and ways to contact service centers for learning disabilities. These services should be available at all times to allow students to ask questions about academic and post-graduation goals. Alternatively, some colleges, like Kennesaw State University, are using a combination of big data analytics and machine learning to keep students up-to-date on how to achieve academic success.
- Library: Library resources are crucial for both on-campus and online students. OLC recommends universities structure their libraries to give students access to personnel, tutorial skills and databases through online portals and mobile applications. Some universities are even using augmented reality to give students the chance to access resources that may not be physically durable enough to handle in real life.
- Technology Support: This is crucial for online-only students who rely heavily on their devices and need university services to work smoothly. Help desk support and access to information on programs required for their courses are imperative for operating a successful online program. As online classes continue to grow, IT teams may need help managing the help desk workload. One solution is integrating artificial intelligence to help direct and answer technology questions from students.