Orientation to Online Learning: Preparing Students for Initial and Ongoing Success Across the Curriculum

Author Information
Leslie Bowman, Online Student Success Coach, Clemson University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Ozarks Technical College
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Walden University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Why do students drop out of online classes? Often students are unprepared for the unique challenges of online learning. All too often, students fail or drop out of online courses because of insufficient preparation for the special challenges and the unfamiliar format of online learning. This can be a result of any of a number of factors, including writing, reading, communication, workload, time management, and technology. Preparing students for effective academic computer-mediated communication will enable them to better transition from their accustomed traditional learning format to a new online learning experience. Ensuring success requires initial orientation and follow-up with ongoing practice and reinforcement across the curriculum. These innovative strategies increase initial and continued success, as well as retention, in online classes.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Ensuring success in online learning requires both initial preparation plus follow up that includes continued practice and reinforcement across the curriculum. Through the systematic and ongoing practice and reinforcement of these strategies, students are able to develop and maintain self-directed learning habits that will enhance their current and future academic work.

Aside from the technological aspect of online education, there are other elements that must be addressed with new online learners. Self-directed learning behaviors and good time management skills are mandatory for successful online learning. Another, and perhaps the most important, element is communication. Learners must be capable of communicating effectively via text. Text-based communication is usually not, but certainly should be, a major component of orientation to online learning.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Orientation and success activities used within the curriculum content provide opportunities for learners to think critically, reflect effectively, and research topics and issues that support their assignments. Writing is one of the most essential skills for success in online learning; practice and reinforcement in academic writing skills, through peer review, is an integral part of every unit of study in every content course.

Orientation activities that promote student success and retention in online classes include multiple, ongoing opportunities to learn and practice all of the skills that will be necessary for success in the online learning environment.


These activities not only helped during online classes, but the structured activities helped me with seated classes as well.

This was my first on-line class and the planning tools definitely helped me. While taking this class I did learn how to be way more organized with my school work and keep things in place a lot better. These on-line activities definitely got me ready for my next on-line class.

I loved these activities. At first I thought they were silly, but they were a great tool. I LOVED the task planners and I printed them off and put them on my fridge so I knew what I had to do each week with every activity.

These activities will help me be more successful in the future to plan work this way.

The weekly plans and task logs helped a whole lot because I remembered what I had to do or what to go back over! I have to say I am way more organized than I was when I started.

I liked the success activities we had in this course. I really liked the time management assignments because they got me into the habit of keeping track of time in my other classes and I can use this in future classes. The note taking got me into the habit of writing things down in other classes. These habits will help me at work too.


I have to say at first I thought this was all too simplistic. I mean really? Assign weekly task calendars and notes and documentation of time spent on reading and work as homework each week? Well boy was I wrong. Those simple tools made all the difference in the grades in my class because students were able to manage time and plan their work throughout the semester on a weekly basis. This was the first semester ALL student projects came in on time; not a single one was late. Awesome!

The learning summary/reflection and the activity requiring students to copy feedback from the previous week's assignment and show the specific improvement on the current week's assignment was more effective than I would have imagined. Students actually started reading comments and implementing my suggestions.

My intro course online students come into the classroom without a clue because most have never taken an online class. My school does not offer an orientation or success course (although short LMS tutorials are available). We have a writing center, free tutoring, and many other free services for online students but they never have time to use them. These classroom success activities were helpful throughout my math course. Students started acclimating to the online class procedures much more quickly than in previous semesters when I didn't use these.

I recommend using these activities for all beginning classes in all subject areas. In other classes, these can be used individually with students who are having difficulty getting work done on time or keeping up with class activities. I had a student who was failing by the end of the first quarter and I emailed to ask if he would use these handouts. He said yes and we arranged a schedule for him to email them to me each week. All of a sudden he was making A's instead of F's. What a huge difference a little help with time management will make.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Access: Handouts are available for all students to use online or to print, whichever works best for them.

Learning Effectiveness: Students gain valuable self-directed learning skills, develop good study habits, learn to effectively manage time, and become proficient in the use of technology.

Student Satisfaction: Students like the planning and reflection handouts. If they are having difficulty keeping up in class, these tools help them get on track and stay on track. Some students have reported better grades in online classes after having used these success strategies.

Instructor Satisfaction: Instructors spend far less time dealing with technical and time management issues that students invariable fall prey to in online classes. Instructors definitely like the fact that late work decreases throughout the class and fewer students fail or drop out of their classes.

Scale: These strategies can be easily implemented in all online classes and can be used with all students in a class or personalized for individual students who are having difficulty keeping up in the online class.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Any word processing program can be used to prepare handouts and exercises to help students with orientation to online learning. Instructors can also get pre-made handouts from my conference presentations.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

There is no cost to implement these strategies in any online class.

References, supporting documents: 

Conference Presentation at the 16th Annual Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning, Orlando FL November 2010

Conference Presentation at the Society for Applied Learning Technologies Conference, Arlington VA August 2011

Conference Presentation at the NISOD National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Austin TX May 2011

Bowman, L., & Conway, G. (2002, July/August). Communication in online learning environments: Framing asynchronous online discussions. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from Society for Applied Learning Technology Web site: http://www.salt.org/salt.asp?pn=procabs&ss=l&key=32378

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Leslie Bowman, Online Student Success Coach, Clemson University
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