Designing a Custom Online Orientation for Nontraditional Student Success

Concurrent Session 3 & 4 (combined)

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Orientation is a critical time for students’ long-term success, especially for nontraditional students enrolled in online programs. Using insights from Guild Education and Bellevue University’s intentionally-designed orientation for nontraditional students, this interactive workshop will allow attendees to build a foundation for a more inclusive online orientation that supports student success.


Extended Abstract

Orientation is a critical time to acquaint students with school and set them up for long-term success. As more schools offer online classes, orientations intentionally designed for online learning programs can: familiarize students with the LMS, proactively troubleshoot technology issues, and increase student retention rates. If orientation can benefit students both in-person and online, then can these positive outcomes be magnified to support non-traditional students enrolled in online learning programs? 

As the population of non-traditional students increases, schools have the unique opportunity to create an orientation that offers an introduction to their institution while addressing the unique needs of this student population, acquainting them with the systems and processes they will be expected to use, and ultimately setting them up for success. Since non-traditional students are 2x more likely to prefer online classes, early success of intentionally designed orientations for online learning programs can help non-traditional students. However, further improvement is needed.

Only 44% of non-traditional students feel connected to their school, and while non-traditional students have similar stop-out rates as traditional students, 47% of non-traditional students who stop out do not return to school. Orientation offers an opportunity to address this. Although non-traditional students are not a monolith, this lack of connection can be due to various factors such as: an extended absence from school, unfamiliarity with current educational technology, lack of knowledge of resources available, or a perceived distance from peers or faculty. An intentionally designed orientation for non-traditional students enrolled in online learning programs can allow schools to proactively address the challenges of a student population that is more likely to be considered at-risk, which supports the long-term success of non-traditional students and schools that serve them.

To promote student success and improve persistence rates, Guild Education and Bellevue University designed a custom online orientation with the intention of addressing the unique needs and challenges of working adult learners. Early insights show positive outcomes, resulting in a 92% rate of early degree persistence and an average GPA of 3.11 for learners with 0-11 transfer credits who completed orientation. Guild developed a four-stage approach to evaluate and improve the learner experience for working adult learners. This framework allows schools to both evaluate their existing structures and redesign them to optimize for the working adult learner. 

In an interactive workshop, Guild and Bellevue will walk higher education leaders wanting to improve student success through this process. Attendees will leave with a foundation for a more inclusive online orientation that will promote student success outcomes, foster a better connection between non-traditional students and their schools, and create a sustainable system to support a growing student population.