Supporting the Needs of an Ever Growing Online Population: Online Learners

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

Online increase access to higher education in ways that campus-based programs cannot and the number of students enrolling some online cours(es) or exclusively online is growing. Come learn about the trends associated with this growing population and how to create an ecosystem inclusive of supporting online learners.


Dr. Jaimie Hoffman has worked across the higher education landscape for over twenty years. Her expertise includes assessment in higher education, student affairs administration, development of college student leaders, inclusion and equity, and use of technology inside and outside of the classroom for advancing student learning and engagement. Jaimie is currently the Director of Student Affairs and Learning at Noodle Partners (an online program manager) where she works with campuses create support structures for online students. She has served as a full-time faculty member for four years, most recently (from 2015-2017) she was an Assistant Professor of Clinical Education at the University of Southern California (USC) in Rossier’s School of Education. Jaimie also served as an adjunct faculty member at various institutions in the United States. Through her teaching career, Jaimie has taught face-to-face, blended, and online (using synchronous and asynchronous technology) courses on assessment, research, communication, diversity, and organizational leadership to students pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Prior to her work as a full-time faculty member, Jaimie held various roles in student affairs and information technology. In the area of information technology, Jaimie served as a Teaching and Learning Innovations Specialist at CSU Channel Islands where she provided pedagogical training and support to faculty teaching blended and online courses. Jaimie spent the first 15 years of her career working in, and leading student affairs/services – she worked in, and with the following programmatic areas: assessment and training, new student programs, orientation, leadership programs, residential education, judicial affairs, campus recreation, and career development services. Jaimie received her Ed.D. in Leadership from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and M.Ed. in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Arizona State University. She maintains leadership roles in various professional associations including the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Faculty Council and the International Higher Education teaching and Learning Association (HETL). Julie Sara Boyd is a highly experienced mathematics educator with over eight years of secondary instruction in urban secondary schools. Boyd received her Master’s in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University and a Masters in Secondary Math Education from City College of New York. She has been a professor, mentor, and coach at various schools and organizations in the DC area, including E.L Haynes Public Charter School and Math for America. A member of the AU community since 2011, Boyd is currently the Assistant Dean for Online Programs where she leads the online master’s and doctorate teams in execution of our 3 graduate online programs. She was the former Director of the Office of Teacher Education, where she advised both graduate and undergraduate teacher candidates. As the Director of the Office of Teacher Education, Boyd’s main goal was to create strong school and community partnerships throughout the DC, Maryland and Virginia area for field experiences, including the Service Learning course.

Extended Abstract

Goals of the presentation:  This session aims to illustrate how the population of online learners are growing, unpack the known needs of online and adult learners, introduce models for understanding the online learning experience, share research-based strategies for meeting the needs of online students, and allow attendees to share their experiences with or as online students


Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending this session, participants will be able to:

  • Describe the growth of the online student population and identify their feelings about that growth

  • Identify challenges/needs of online learners and analyze how these align (or don’t) with campus-based students

  • Summarize a framework for supporting online students

  • Identify evidence-based strategies for supporting online students and contribute best-practice idea

Background information: Few would argue that online learning is transforming the higher education landscape and the student experience of college students across the nation. While enrollment in higher education may be decreasing, students are enrolling in online courses at an increasing rate: in fact, as of 2015, almost 30% (29.7%) of students in higher education are taking at least one distance course and among the 30%, 14.3% are taking all courses at a distance. Growth is seen across the board in private for-profit AND public and private not-for-profit institutions have grown their distance learning enrollments (Allen & Seaman, 2017). Understanding this population is paramount for fulfilling our duty of meeting the needs of all students.

The dropout rates of online students vary - some found as few as 15% of students drop out, some researchers found as many as 50-70% of online students dropout (Hobbs, 2004; Tallent-Runnels et al., 2006). Various reasons for dropout have become known including feeling isolated and disconnected, having technology-related issues, lack of connectivity with and instructional direction from faculty, loss of focus and motivation, and lack of social interaction with peers (Lehman & Conceicao, 2014).

Conversely, we know that student characteristics and skills (before entering college) and internal and external factors (once enrolled) impact student persistence (Rovai, 2003). Further, staying motivated is an important element for persistence of college students; one study identified strategies to keep students motivated that could be used as a framework for student affairs educators (Lehman & Conceicao, 2014). Support is another important ingredient for success of online students; support means creating an environment that is effective for learning, establishing strategies for community, helping students learn self-care strategies, and providing assistance throughout (Lehman & Conceicao). A student-centered model, The Persistence Model for Online Student Retention created by Lehman & Conceicao serves as a useful framework for understanding how to support online students.


Allen, E. and Seaman, J. (2017). Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017. Digital Learning Compass. Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate, WCET.

Conceico, S.C.O. and Lehman, R.M. (2012, November). Motivation and support strategies for online adult learners in the 21st century. American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. Las Vegas, NV.

Hobbs, V. (2004). The promise and power of online learning in rural education. Arlington. VA: Rural School and Community Trust.

Lehman, R. M., & Conceicao, S. C. O. (2014). Motivating and Retaining Online Students: Research-Based Strategies That Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rovai, A.P. (2003). In search of higher persistence rates in distance education online programs. Internet & Higher Education, 6(1), 1-6.

Tallent-Runnels, M.K., Thomas, J.A., Lan, W.Y., Cooper, S. Ahern, T.C., Shaw, S.M. & Liu, X. (2006). Teaching courses online. A review of the research.  Research of Educational Research, 76(1).


Session format: The program format is enhanced lecture whereby a series of  sections of content will be shared punctuated with active learning strategies to engage the audience.


Methods for participant involvement:  Opportunities will be woven throughout to invite audience to ask questions or comment and to provide examples of effective practices. Attendees will be invited to participate and contribute ideas in person and using digital tools allowing for contributions during and beyond the presentation.

Outline of Session

  • Introductions (2 minutes)

    1. Audience interactive: Kahoot survey of characteristics of those in the room.

  • Review of stats (5 minutes)

    1. Enrollment trends

    2. Challenges/needs of online learners

  • Review of The Persistence Model for Online Student Retention (5 minutes)

  • Goals of online learning experience

  • Create an ecosystem that is inclusive of online learners

    1. Opportunity to learn from past

  • Review of practical application and evidence-based strategies for supporting online students (15 minutes)

    1. Audience interactive: answer garden - how do you currently support online learners?

    2. Six basic commitments for supporting online learners

    3. Support mechanisms

      • Harnessing data analytics digital retention platform

      • Proactive retention coaching

      • Virtual student union/cohort groups

      • Tech support desk

      • Orientation

      • Mental health/support

  • Audience best practice contributions and discussion (10 Minutes)

    1. Think pair share: what ideas do you have for supporting online learners