Creating a Confident Learning Community: Orienting Students to Online Learning

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

Online learners who are not prepared to navigate the learning platform put themselves at an increased risk of failure.  An orientation to online learning was developed to foster a sense of institutional connectedness. The outcome of the unique orientation to online learning revealed increased student satisfaction and higher G.P.A.s.


Extended Abstract

Online learners who are not prepared to navigate the online learning platform frequently find themselves experiencing feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction, which could lead to fledgling grades or course withdrawal.  Recognizing a need for student support, early intervention was determined to be the ideal way to provide students a positive learning experience.  An orientation to online learning was developed as a way to expose students to campus entities, student groups, support services, and the history and traditions of the university as a way of giving the orientation participants an authentic student experience.  Blending best practices in traditional student orientations with distance learning orientations yielded a unique learning community.  Students participating in the online orientation complete engaging modules, enjoy dialogue with one another in the discussion board forum, and “meet” campus contacts that they will need throughout their academic tenure.  Students are able to experience the learning platform and experiment with the tools that they will be tasked with using in a way that is interactive, as research has suggested that waiting to master the technology while also trying to learn course content puts students at an increased risk of failure. This innovative approach to online orientation allows students to meet and greet with one another, establishing connections and forging friendships before the coursework even begins; the mentor-led orientation provides guidance and the opportunity to clarify questions along with establishing a point-of-contact for any future assistance.  Students are offered guidance through reflection of their own learning readiness; student conceptions of online learning and expectations are discussed along with tips for time-management and effective study habits.  With the implementation of the online orientation, online pedagogy is increased because students no longer view their professor as their primary form of student support. With students having an increased knowledge of student support, inefficiencies are limited, and instructors can spend more time devoted to course development.

In its fourth year of existence, the orientation has never required any funding and is cost-free to any student who wishes to participate, yet it has produced an abundance of positive student outcomes.  Students who have participated in the orientation have expressed increased comfort with the technology and greater confidence in their ability to find and utilize campus support structures.  Quantitative data comparing students who have completed the orientation to a control group revealed that participants in the orientation had higher G.P.A.s and completed more coursework with an A, B, or C grade.  In order to make the orientation as accessible as possible, all online students are invited to participate, and they can participate from any computer or mobile device.  These results were across five degree programs at differing academic levels, so the impact of the orientation has been felt institution-wide.  

The beauty of offering such an innovative support service managed by a team of online learning professionals is the ability to recognize and quickly respond to student needs.  For example, as the institution’s enrollment of international students soared, the team was able to work expeditiously with the appropriate entities to determine the needs of international students and are in the process of designing orientation modules that best suit them.  Campus staff, faculty, and administration work closely with the orientation team to keep orientation information relevant and timely, and the orientation team continuously seeks feedback and input from academic partners.

Conference attendees will have the opportunity to view a demonstration of the learning modules and gain insight into the orientation interface to determine if replication is desired at their own institution.