Realistic Job Preview as an Alternative to Student Readiness for Online Learning Surveys

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This presentation recommends the use of Realistic Job Preview, an orientation technique widely used in the business field, as an alternative to student online readiness self-assessment surveys to provide future online students with a realistic picture of what online learning might be like.

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Robby is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Houston Downtown. He previously served as an Adjunct Professor at several universities. Over the past 20 years, he has taught over 150 online classes. In addition to his university work, he serves as the Managing Director for The McCollum Group, LLC, a general management consulting firm. He has over 30 years consulting experience in a combination of internal and external roles. Robby has an earned doctorate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from The Ohio State University and is a Licensed Psychologist in the state of Texas.

Additional Authors

Sedef is Executive Director of Instruction and Faculty Development at the University of Houston Downtown’s Marilyn Davies College of Business. She holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction (with a specialization in Online Teaching and Learning) from the State University of New York at Albany. Sedef has taught undergraduate and graduate students at diverse higher education institutions since her teaching career began in 1999, including teaching online since 2007. She publishes and presents widely on online teaching and learning. Prior to her current appointment, she taught teacher education courses at Lamar University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a tenure-track professor. Sedef is a member of the OLC (Online Learning Consortium) Effective Practice Awards Committee and serves on the editorial board of the Online Learning Journal (the official journal of the OLC). She also serves as a reviewer for other leading journals in online education and the Research Grants Council (RGC) of Hong Kong.

Extended Abstract


This presentation takes as a starting point the proposition that online learning works better when students have a clear understanding of what it truly entails, i.e., what they should expect taking an online class and what they should be doing to be successful in it. This premise is hardly controversial. As Journell (2013) wrote: “A problem arises when […] students who do not possess the dispositions required for success online choose virtual courses simply because they do not want to come to school or they think online learning will be easier than face-to-face instruction” (p. 38). Indeed, there is a strong case for Journell’s statement that “Students need to be prepared for online learning.”

It is no surprise that students often make their own facts about online learning before they step foot into virtual classes. The fact that a keyword search on “online learning myths” in Google returns over 100 entries reveals that the spread of misinformation about online learning among students is common and, if not corrected, such misinformation can undermine students’ ability to succeed in online classes.

We argue that if first time online students are to succeed in online courses, they must prepare themselves for those environments. In this presentation we will:

  1. Use the concept of “anticipatory socialization” as a framework to understand being an online learner as role acquisition.

  2. Problematize the use of online readiness student-self assessment surveys for assessing students’ level of online readiness.

  3. Propose the use of Realistic Job Preview (RJP), an orientation technique widely used in business field, as an alternative to readiness surveys to provide future online students with a realistic picture of what online learning might be like.

  4. Show an example RJP.

Online Learning as Role Acquisition:

Research shows that students experiencing online learning for the first time go through a significant role adjustment (Amemado, 2013; Garrison, Cleveland- Innes, & Fung, 2004). As Cleveland-Innes, Garrison, and Kinsel (2009) put it: “Differences in the required activities of online learning, in comparison to classroom based face-to-face, result in new, required expectations and behaviors for learners. These new activities cluster into a pattern that is seen as the ‘role’ of online learner” (p. 5). This discussion of student adjustment to online learning as role acquisition (as in ‘becoming an online learner’) brings to mind the concept of anticipatory socialization, which describes the preparation processes of individuals for role or status shifts. As defined by Merton (1968), anticipatory socialization is “the acquisition of values and orientations found in statuses and groups in which one is not yet engaged but which one is likely to enter” (p. 438).

The socialization Merton implies closely parallels the preparation processes students need to go through before stepping into the role of online learner. That is, if first time online students are to succeed in their new environments, they must prepare themselves for those environments. In other words, some anticipatory socialization needs to occur before students enter into online learning contexts. No two online learning environments are identical, and no two online students experience online learning in quite the same way. Nevertheless, there exists a macro-culture of online education that includes widely shared research- and theory-based norms, standards and expectations that create similarities across online courses and reflect what online learning typically entails. Our contention is that potential students need to learn these norms, standards, and expectations vicariously before experiencing online learning for the first time.

Current Practice in the Field:

To date, the primary initiative for helping students understand what online learning entails has been the implementation of online readiness questionnaires or surveys. These are self-report measures typically developed in-house by most colleges and universities to assess preparedness of students that are considering enrolling in online classes. A Google search of the term “online readiness survey” reveals a multitude of free institution-specific surveys of this kind. For example, when clicked, one university’s online readiness survey displays the following instructions:

Interested in discovering what skills you need to be successful online? Want to find out if you’re ready for online learning? Fill out the information below to get started and receive your free online learner assessment.     

These surveys often require students to self-assess their technical abilities, motivation for taking an online course, established study skills, and personality traits. Although comparison of one with another shows some variations, these surveys typically resemble each other with identical wordings (Wladis & Samuels, 2016).

Despite their widespread use, there have been some critiques about the online readiness surveys. Hall (2008) cautioned that the difficulties students have in recognizing their skills, expertise, and character often lead to inflated self-assessments, thereby rendering these surveys unreliable. Similarly, Wladis and Samuels (2016) cautioned that online readiness surveys in general “do not have any predictive validity in identifying students who are at higher risk in the online environment” (p. 54).

Recognizing that being an online learner is a role acquisition and that some anticipatory socialization needs to occur before students enter into online learning contexts, we recommend the use of Realistic Job Preview (RJP), an orientation technique that is widely used in the business field, rather than online readiness surveys.  RJP would provide future online students with a realistic picture of what online learning might be like.


RJP has a long history of research, spanning over 50 years (Breaugh, 1992).  During this time, it has been used extensively by businesses as part of the recruiting and/or onboarding process for new employees.  Baur et al. (2014) describe the RJP as a technique that presents applicants with a realistic view of what they can expect from a job. Historical summaries note that the use of RJPs is connected to numerous positive outcomes, such as job performance, met expectations, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover, by improving role clarity and creating realistic expectations about the organization and the job in question (Landis, Earnest, & Allen, 2013).  The RJP model can be seen in Figure 1.



Given the analogous relationship between a recruit to a new job in a business and a student to a new “job" at an educational institution, it is anticipated that the dynamics and results of the RJP model would be similar in the two settings.  In both settings, role acquisition occurs and anticipatory socialization is necessary to succeed.  To our knowledge, little research (e.g., Erffmeyer & Erffmeyer, 1983) has examined RJP in an educational context involving students. 

We believe that an RJP specifically designed to introduce the online environment to students who have never taken an online course can positively impact students’ online experience through a better understanding of what to expect from online courses and a better understanding of the skills and personal qualities necessary to succeed in online courses.  Furthermore, we believe this effect will be stronger for an RJP than for a Student Readiness Survey.

RJP for Online Learning

We developed a Realistic Preview to introduce the online experience to students registering for online courses at our university.  The first decision we had to make was the format for the RJP.  An RJP can take one of four formats: written, face-to-face discussion, audio only, or audiovisual.  We decided to use an audiovisual approach.  In developing the RJP, we followed the recommendations of Breaugh and Billings (1988) for the qualities of an effective RJP.

  1. We presented both positive and negative aspects of online learning.

  2. We focused on specifics about online learning.

  3. We used real students presenting information about their experiences.

  4. We included key information that we felt was important for students to know before enrolling in an online course.

Prior research has found that the timing of RJP is a factor in its effectiveness.  Some research has demonstrated that RJP’s shown to employees prehire has stronger effects than posthire (as onboarding), as it allows employees to self-select out altogether (Allen, Mahto, & Otondo, 2007).  Similarly, for online learning, we propose the timing of the RJP should be available to students before they register for the course. 

The RJP we created can be found here:

Next Steps:

In closing, we believe an RJP will most likely have the strongest benefit to students who are average or marginal performers. Good students tend to be good students regardless of the modality. To measure the effectiveness of the RJP we created, we seek to conduct a mixed method study to understand whether a Realistic Job Preview or a student readiness survey does a better job of identifying for students the skills and personal qualities necessary to succeed in an online course.