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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 what we can do as teachers to 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. Asking students to contemplate their motivation, such as by journaling or 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 tend to 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 during 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. Being organized with their time and materials. It is common for students to lose files and links that are needed for their online courses. Students should create bookmarks for important links and create folders that they can access anywhere for assignments and other files, 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. 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 stops working or 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, also known as netiquette. 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 quite similar to traditional courses: recognizing student needs and stumbling blocks and helping 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

Keri Conwell graduated from Walla Walla University with Bachelor's degrees in English and Psychology and an MAT degree in Secondary Teaching. She is currently serving as a project manager for CIRCLE and has served as a high school English teacher at Mount Vernon Academy and a K-10 Physical Education teacher at Ukiah Junior Academy, USA.
Keri Conwell

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