Engagement and targeted support critical for online students’ success
New research by National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education Equity Fellow Dr Cathy Stone from The University of Newcastle has informed comprehensive new guidelines for improving student outcomes in post-secondary online learning, with a focus on undergraduate retention and course completion.
Qualitative interviews with 151 higher education practitioners from Australia and the United Kingdom consistently illustrated the need for a strategic, tailored approach to online programs, with an emphasis on student engagement and an individualised approach to monitoring, support and outreach.
“Online learning has a critical place in widening access and participation for a diverse range of students, with notable benefits for equity students,” Dr Stone said.
“However, retention and completion rates for online, distance students are considerably lower than amongst on-campus students. To improve these figures, institutions need to approach online education as ‘core business’ and understand the nature and diversity of the student cohort as well as the development and implementation of quality standards for online delivery.”
Academic and professional staff from 15 Australian universities and The Open University UK shared evidence-based experience on strategies and interventions that can make a positive difference to students’ success.
“This collective experience demonstrates that universities offering online education need to do so in a thoughtful, strategic way, not treating it as an ‘add-on’ to the on-campus experience,” Dr Stone said.
“Continuing evaluation and improvement should be directed toward marketing and prospective student advice, student preparation and induction, teaching, student support, curriculum, learning design, staff development, technology, data collection, data dissemination and learning analytics.”
Dr Stone emphasised the importance of ‘teacher-presence’ in building a sense of belonging to the learning community, something which is not always recognised in existing workload models.
“Regular and structured contact between the institution and the student is important in providing connection and direction along the student journey,” said Dr Stone.
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad commended Dr Stone’s research and recommendations for online education delivery.
“Online study offers equity students the flexibility to pursue higher education where traditional programs may be inaccessible. Institutions have a responsibility to provide appropriate and effective programs which will offer students the best chance of success,” Professor Trinidad said.
“Dr Stone’s research has informed 10 National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning: a valuable foundation for education practitioners to improve student outcomes in undergraduate study, as well as online delivery in a broader context.”
The full report, Opportunity through Online Learning: Improving student access, participation and success in higher education and the National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning are available here on the NCSEHE website.
Read more here.
The NCSEHE aims to inform public policy design and implementation and institutional practice to improve the higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people.
The Centre is based at Curtin University in Perth.