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Helping Students Succeed in Online Courses

It may seem surprising that students often struggle in online courses. After all, our students are growing up in an online environment. However, succeeding in online learning requires specific skills not developed through general internet use. As I prepared the orientation unit for Preparing for College and Career, a free online course for Adventist high school students, I considered what students need to do to succeed in online learning and how teachers can help them.

These elements, among others, can encourage student success in online learning:

  1. Knowing their motivation. Students are more likely to succeed if they understand their motivation for completing the course and doing well. It can be helpful to ask students to contemplate their motivation, either by journaling or by discussing with other classmates taking the course.
  2. Creating and following a regular schedule for working on their online courses. Students often struggle because online courses can provide less structure than classroom-based courses. Creating their own schedule for working on their online courses can help provide more structure. The schedule should include specific work times each week and dates for completing each section, and may need to be checked to make sure it is realistic. Teacher-created deadlines for certain sections or assignments can also help students stay on track.
  3. Organizing their materials. Students frequently lose files and links that are needed for their online courses. Students should be guided through creating bookmarks for important links and creating folders for assignments and other files that they can access anywhere, such as through Dropbox or Google Docs.
  4. Finding multiple ways to access course content. A student’s progress can be slowed down if their primary device has a technology problem. Having access set up on several devices can help. Depending on what devices they have access to, they could have bookmarks to their course and other necessary links saved on their phone, personal tablet, and school computer, for example, so that if one device is not available, they can easily continue on another until they are able to resolve the problem.
  5. Controlling distractions such as other online activities. Encouraging students to turn off other devices and turn off notifications can help them to stay focused. Quiet music helps many students by cutting down on external distractions.
  6. Connecting with others who are taking the course or can help them as they work through the course. Having these connections allows students to reach out quickly for help if a teacher is not immediately available and also encourages their engagement in the course. These connections can happen in discussion forums within the course itself or through regular meetings in a physical classroom.
  7. Using proper internet etiquette. In the age of texting and social media, it is important for students to understand that communication in online courses has different rules than other online communication. This video gives an excellent overview for students of the rules for polite communication for online courses: Online Netiquette. Another helpful resource is this article that gives an overview for teachers of the rules for online communication.

Guiding students through online courses can feel intimidating, but ultimately our strategy for encouraging student success in online courses is the same as the strategy used in traditional courses: recognize student needs and stumbling blocks and help them develop the skills needed to succeed.

What tips and tricks do you have for helping students succeed in online learning? What issues have you encountered?

Keri Conwell

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