A Matrix of Value: Impact of Personalization Techniques in the Online Classroom

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will review findings from a five-part survey to measure student perceptions of instructor-personalized materials. The survey was based on a matrix of types of value and teaching presence across five dimensions (text, image, audio, video and interactive web tools). Presenters will review results of the study and relate it to creating a good balance between maximizing instructor presence and incorporating unique personalized learning components.  Results are currently pending. The study will be completed by September.


Sarah Robertson has a Ph.D. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Cognition and Instruction. Sarah teaches full time at Grand Canyon University within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Sarah has more than 12 years of experience in online and face-to-face higher education and maintains her teaching certifications in K-8 general, K-12 special education, and middle grades math. Her professional pursuits include action research to improve student engagement, teaching presence, motivation, and information retention and application within both online and traditional courses.
John Steele is a Associate Professor who teaches Critical Thinking, University Introduction, and Psychology classes at Grand Canyon University. He is a certified K-12 School Counselor, certified elementary teacher, and has taught Adjunct Education at Phoenix Community College and at GCU. He is a GCU Alum¬nus, with a Master’s in Education in School Counseling and a Master’s of Science in Psychology. John is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in General Psychology with an emphasis in Integrating Technology, Learning, and Psychology at GCU. John’s professional interests include research in online learning and academic integrity.
B. Jean Mandernach, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University. Her research focuses on enhancing student learning in the online classroom through innovative instructional and assessment strategies. In addition, she has interests in the development of effective faculty evaluation models, perception of online degrees, and faculty workload considerations. Jean received her B.S. in comprehensive psychology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, an M.S. in experimental psychology from Western Illinois University and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Extended Abstract


Since the inception of Moore’s (1997) Theory of Transactional Distance, there have been many advancements to bridge the gap between teacher and student in asynchronous online education. Moore’s theory provides a foundation for understanding its underlying causes and the impact psychological separation has between online instructors and students. With continued growth in online modality popularity, it is imperative to continue to measure the impact of students’ interactions with instructors and course content (Murray, Pérez, Geist, Hedrick, & Steinbach, 2012; Steele, Nordin, Larson, & McIntosh, 2017). One current understanding is that synchronous communication can break down the psychological and physical barriers that interrupt interaction and participation (Fallon, 2014).

Breaking down these barriers in online modalities can be especially difficult to achieve, however, as online courses are designed and advertised as asynchronous environments. Clark and Mayer (2011) found that personalized learning components could be the chisels needed to reduce transactional distance and enhance learning in the asynchronous classroom. For example, Mayer and Moreno (2002) determined that by simply changing the text of a test from the third person to a more conversational tone in second person, students earned higher test scores and noted feeling more connected to the instructor at the close of the course. Instructor personalization seems to be the happy medium between the synchronous communication and the core design of the course as a way to connect with students as one would in a traditional classroom. The personalization of content by the instructor in the online environment also aligns with pieces of the primary learning theory of Community of Inquiry (COI) as a way to incorporate teaching presence, enhance cognitive presence, and even an increased social presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). Interestingly, instructors and researchers have yet to determine which personalization techniques may be of more value to students than others, and if any have equivalent value to synchronous learning options such as live video conference calls.

Purpose and description of the study and presentation

The purpose of the study was to research first year online undergraduate students’ perceived value of instructor-generated personalization techniques across all five dimensions (text, image, video, audio, and interactive) in the online classroom. The study was also designed to differentiate between types of value (connection to course content, classmates, instructor, increases the level of interest, provides an outlet for immediate feedback) and which personalization techniques address each of these areas from a student’s perspective the best.

The interactive discovery session will provide the audience with a quick overview and summary of findings. Afterward, presenters will open up a question and answer session to delve into results and ideas of most interest to those attending. The session will focus on how instructors can easily enhance and/or increase their instructor presence. It will also discuss how online instructors, administrators, or course designers can incorporate instructor-personalized elements that students most prefer to foster a strong connection. Findings from the study can be used to guide best practices in online instruction and further research into reducing transactional distance in online environments.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-Learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd Edition) San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Falloon, G. (2011). Making the connection: Moore’s Theory of Transactional Distance and its relevance to the use of a virtual classroom in postgraduate online teacher education. Journal of Research On Technology in Education International Society For Technology in Education, 43(3), 187-209.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2002). Learning science in virtual reality multimedia environments: Role of methods and media. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(3), 598-610. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.94.3.598

Moore, M. (1997). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical priniciples of distance education (pp.22-38). New York: Routledge.

Murray, M., Pérez, J., Geist, D., Hedrick, A., & Steinbach, T. (2012). Student Interaction with Online Course Content: Build It and They Might Come. Journal Of Information Technology Education11, 125-140.

Steele, J., Nordin, E., Larson, E., & McIntosh, D. (2017). Student preference for information access in the online classroom. The Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education. 18(1), 182-195. http://tojde.anadolu.edu.tr/upload/files/tojde_18_1_2017.pdf