Best practice recommendations in managing and teaching online are prolific in the literature. For the researcher, reader, educator, or learner who wants to learn how to build and support successful online instructional experiences for students, there is plenty to guide decision making in development of truly excellent and effective online learning for students. While today’s high school students may be considered digital natives, students still require clear and targeted support with technology and protocols during initial experiences with online learning (Malinovski, Vasileva, Vasileva-Stojanovska, & Trajkovik, 2014). “Learning to be an online learner” is quite different from learning to be a successful student in a traditional F2F classroom; thus structuring courses to include ample structures and supports to guide students through the learning experience and to teach and reinforce the routines of a successful online learner are critically important (Stodel, Thompson, and MacDonald, 2006; Kaler, 2011). Frequent, personalized interactions between instructor and student and prompt responses from teachers to students’ inquiries create greater buy-in from learners and result in greater feelings of satisfaction for teachers, as well (Hawkins, Barbour, & Graham, 2011). In addition, engaging a student’s family or at-home support is found to positively influence student success in online learning (Currie-Rubin & Smith, 2014).
Communication and relationship building in online learning environments is critically important to student success and satisfaction. Regardless of whether a student is taking a synchronous or asynchronous online course, there is a plethora of research supporting the importance of frequent, personalized, high-quality communication between and among participants in an online class. The importance of developing cognitive and social “presence” in an online learning environment, according to Stodel, Thompson, and MacDonald (2006), cannot be underestimated if the desire is for learners to feel both connected to a learning community and invested in meaningful learning (Barbour, Siko, Sumara, & Simuel-Everage, 2012; Barbour & Hill, 2011). While the research suggests the establishment of authentic relationships may be more difficult to develop in an online environment, the use of audio and video technologies can both enhance students’ feelings of connectedness and increase students’ abilities to communicate via media that contain “more interpersonal cues to enhance social presence” (Stodel, Thompson, & MacDonald (2006). Hawkins, Barbour, and Graham found that struggling students “miss having social interactions with a classroom teacher” in some online courses (2011); thus, ensuring that online classes include intentionally crafted components aimed at building community and supporting students’ interpersonal, social needs may be as important as providing quality content (Kaler, 2011; Barbour, Siko, Sumara, & Simuel-Everage, 2012). Harvey, Greer, Basham, and Hu (2014) found that students valued interaction and communication with their online teacher more than they valued interaction with their online classmates. Treating students as “uniquely valued individuals” can contribute to students’ success in the traditional F2F classroom (Hadre, Sullivan, & Roberts, 2008), and the literature supports the transferability of this to an online learning environment, as well. An even more significant theme, from my perspective, is the value of meaningful attention to students by teachers and the importance of quality interaction between teacher and students (Kaler, 2011; Currie-Rubin & Smith, 2014).
Motivational factors play a role in student success in online learning. Patterns related to discussion of motivational factors was an unexpected discovery in my literature review. A few studies provided interesting findings related to what motivates students to take online classes, and how those motivations impact student learning and success. “Positive motivation that is internalized and fully adopted by students enables them to self-regulate their own learning and development” (Hadre, Sullivan, & Roberts, 2008). While “positive motivation” in an online learning environment may manifest itself in ways that are slightly different from traditional F2F settings, educators who look to systems that work in traditional classroom environments may be better equipped to motivate online students (Barbour & Hill, 2011). Kaler (2011) and Malinovski, Vasileva, Vasileva-Stojanovska, and Trajkovik (2014) provide evidence that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation influence students’ success, or lack thereof, in online learning experiences. Student success in online learning, according to Hawkins, Barbour, and Graham (2011), is largely dependent on “internal factors such as motivation, self-regulation, and perseverance,” which can be challenging for younger learners. “Learning on my own” and the ability to self-pace was found to be a significant reason students “like” or prefer online learning (Harvey, Greer, Basham, & Hu, 2014). An implication of this theme is to build in an interview or survey asking and addressing students' motivations prior to begin an online class. This information could be invaluable for teachers and site-based adult staff who are providing academic and motivational support for an online learner.
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Barbour, M., Siko, J., Sumara, J., & Simuel-Everage, K. (2012). Narratives from the Online Frontier: A K-12 Student's Experience in an Online Learning Environment. The Qualitative Report, 17(20), 1-19.
Corry, M., & Stella, J. (2012). Developing a Framework for Research in Online K-12 Distance Education. Quarterly Review Of Distance Education, 13(3), 133-151.
Currie-Rubin, R., & Smith, S. J. (2014). Understanding the Roles of Families in Virtual Learning. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(5), 117-126. doi:10.1177/0040059914530101
Hardre, P. L., Sullivan, D. W., & Roberts, N. (2008). Rural Teachers' Best Motivating Strategies: A Blending of Teachers' and Students' Perspectives.Rural Educator, 30(1), 19-31.
Harvey, D., Greer, D., Basham, J., & Hu, B. (2014). From the Student Perspective: Experiences of Middle and High School Students in Online Learning. American Journal Of Distance Education, 28(1), 14-26.
Hawkins, A., Barbour, M., & Graham, C. (2011). Strictly Business: Teacher Perceptions of Interaction in Virtual Schooling. Journal Of Distance Education, 25(2), 1-13.
Kaler, Collier. (2011). A Model of Successful Adaptation to Online Learning for College-Bound Native American HIgh School Students. University of Montana ScholarWorks. Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers. Paper 272.
Malinovski, T., Vasileva, M., Vasileva-Stojanovska, T., & Trajkovik, V. (2014). Considering high school students’ experience in asynchronous and synchronous distance learning environments: QoE prediction model. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 15(4). Retrieved fromhttp://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1808/3050
Stodel, E. J., Thompson, T., & MacDonald, C. J. (2006). Learners' Perspectives on What is Missing from Online Learning: Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework.International Review Of Research In Open & Distance Learning,7(3), 1-24.