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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

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Effective Online Learning From the Student Perspective: A Journey Behind the Screens

Mel Henry (Edith Cowan University, Australia)
Additional Authors
Julie Ann Pooley (Edith Cowan University, Australia)
Maryam Omari (Edith Cowan University, Australia)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 10:15am
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere A1
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 6

This session reports on student perspectives of online learning, and how online student expectations and experiences can impact retention, learning, success and the student experience.

Extended Abstract

With the explosion of online learning opportunities over recent years, student retention and learning outcomes in online courses have become important issues for the higher education sector. Entire degrees can now be completed online, without visiting a campus or speaking face-to-face with another student or instructor, yet there remain significant gaps in our understanding of online learning. Ensuring we provide effective online learning environments requires a deep understanding of what makes students apply for, persist and evaluate their experience in an online course as valuable. A successful and satisfying experience also relies on students having realistic expectations and adequate preparation for online learning (Trekles Milligan & Buckenmeyer, 2008). Limited research has examined the expectations that students bring with them to an online course, however, or explained how these expectations may influence students' subsequent experiences and online learning outcomes. Without knowing what students expect and experience in online courses, it is impossible to ensure those expectations are met and that students commence with adequate skills and preparation to succeed.

Conflicting reports of enhanced or diminished student retention, success and satisfaction in online courses have resulted in confusion about whether online learning is really an effective learning mechanism, and what makes it so. There are of course successful examples of good online programs, but there are equally poor examples. Institutions and researchers often allude to lower course completion and retention rates, lower grades, and less student satisfaction in online courses (Hyllegard, Deng, & Hunter, 2008; Parsons-Pollard, Lacks, & Grant, 2008; Wynegar & Fenster, 2009). Others (e.g, Clark-Ibanez & Scott, 2008; Twigg, 2003), suggest the opposite, online courses can be equivalent to on-campus courses and can even enhance student retention, learning, academic performance and satisfaction. Navigating good or bad courses, therefore, becomes a troublesome and confusing process for prospective students, and presents a substantial risk to institutional reputation. If the higher education sector itself cannot demonstrate how it meets students' needs and provides a high quality, high value product through online learning, institutions will struggle to empower consumers to make informed choices about their education and to maximize student and institutional return on investment.

Student motivation, satisfaction and the perceived relevance of their course to current and future goals can affect students' intentions to continue and their academic success in online courses (Griffin, MacKewn, Moser, & VanVuren, 2013). Ensuring students have clear learning goals and accurate expectations when they commence can help motivate students to actively participate in their own learning (Lau, 2003). To date, however, research into university student expectations has concentrated on researcher-conceived academic expectations, such as predicted grades, and desirable outcomes (e.g., Moore, Moore, & McDonald, 2008; Mupinga, Nora, & Yaw, 2006; Paechter, Maier, & Macher, 2010). Little consideration has been given to other, student-centred expectations, which may also inform students' expectations of learning online, such as the usage and reliance on technology, time management, or interaction with instructors and other students. In addition, there is rarely any acknowledgment of the difference between expectations and ideals (Leung, Silvius, Pimlott, Dalziel, & Drummond, 2009), signalling an assumption that students do not hold any negative expectations about their studies. With many different interests and commitments competing for students' attention, online students' expectations are likely to be multi-dimensional in nature, yet a thorough understanding of online course expectations that encapsulates all facets of students' lives has not been previously investigated.

Join PhD candidate, Mel Henry, as she takes you on a journey through her investigation into the expectations, experiences and outcomes for online freshmen at an Australian university. Follow a group of students as they commence and progress through their first year of an online degree. Together we will explore students' early expectations, and look at how these compared to what they subsequently experienced, uncovering students' own perceptions of what impacted their learning outcomes, in terms of retention, effective learning, academic success and satisfaction.

At the end of this session you will have a greater awareness of the assumptions students might bring with them to an online course, and how these expectations and/or subsequent experiences can impact the outcomes of online learning. You will be able to apply this knowledge as instructors, course designers and support professionals, to manage students' expectations and facilitate an effective learning experience in the online environment.

Clark-Ibanez, M., & Scott, L. (2008). Learning to Teach Online. Teaching Sociology, 36(1), 34-41.
Griffin, R., MacKewn, A., Moser, E., & VanVuren, K. W. (2013). Learning Skills and Motivation: Correlates to Superior Academic Performance. Business Education and Accreditation, 5(1), 53-65.
Hyllegard, D., Deng, H., & Hunter, C. (2008). Why do Students Leave Online Courses? Attrition in Community College Distance Learning Courses. International Journal of Instructional Media, 35(4), 429-434.
Lau, L. K. (2003). Institutional Factors Affecting Student Retention. Education, 124(1), 126-136.
Leung, K. K., Silvius, J. L., Pimlott, N., Dalziel, W., & Drummond, N. (2009). Why health expectations and hopes are different: The development of a conceptual model. Health Expectations, 12, 347-360.
Moore, M. L., Moore, R. S., & McDonald, R. (2008). Student Characteristics and Expectations of University Classes: A Free Elicitation Approach. College Student Journal, 42(1), 82-89.
Mupinga, D. M., Nora, R. T., & Yaw, D. C. (2006). The Learning Styles, Expectations and Needs of Online Students. College Teaching, 54(1), 185-189.
Paechter, M., Maier, B., & Macher, D. (2010). Students' expectations of, and experiences in e-learning: Their relation to learning achievements and course satisfaction. Computers and Education, 54, 222-229.
Parsons-Pollard, N., Lacks, R. D., & Grant, P. H. (2008). A comparative assessment of student learning outcomes in large online and traditional campus-based introduction to criminal justice courses. Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, 21(3), 239-251.
Trekles Milligan, A., & Buckenmeyer, J. A. (2008). Assessing Students for Online Learning. International Journal on E-Learning, 7(3), 449-461.
Twigg, C. A. (2003). Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: New Models for Online Learning. Educause Review, 38, 28-38.
Wynegar, R. G., & Fenster, M. J. (2009). Evaluation of Alternative Delivery Systems on Academic Performance in College Algebra. College Student Journal, 43(1), 170-174.

Lead Presenter

Mel is a current research student investigating the expectations, experiences and outcomes for first-year university students engaged in online learning. She has also spent many years working within higher education, with significant experience with student support services, inclusion and diversity strategies, and central teaching and learning departments.