Reducing 'distance' is key to online learner success
- Faculty members from the University of Central Florida wrote in Evolllution about the strategies to building engagement for online students. Citing common factors leading to "transactional distance" for students, such as a lack of feedback or unresponsiveness from admissions officers or instructors, poor course design or detachment from campus life, the authors say that building student confidence begins with the school's readiness to answer questions and to provide support for the online learning process.
- Transactional distance is defined as space felt between a faculty member and a student in the learning process, which is exacerbated in distance learning platforms where students are not able to enhance their learning with in-class dialog, in-person exchange, or lack of exposure to campus culture. This distance, the writers say, can lead to students feeling isolated, unsupported and usually precedes a student withdrawing from a course.
- They suggest using online coaches to encourage students to completion. Coaches often are extensions of faculty members who can provide online learners with guidance on how to locate and use university resources, maintaining the motivation behind their selection of an online degree or course, creating plans for success and studying strategies, helping learners to develop schedules.
The concept of success coaching is one that Strayer University believes in enough that they have used it in their marketing campaigns to attract prospective students. Many nonprofit institutions, like Middle Tennessee State University, have used similar system models to provide intrusive guidance for student groups which historically demonstrate a greater need for enhanced support in the transition into college.
With the need for most colleges and universities to determine how to enroll and support low-income students to meet enrollment and national education targets, there will soon be a greater emphasis on models like success coaching and big data, even for students in traditional, on-campus learning settings. This might require campuses to reconsider how they prioritize admissions and recruitment against retention and completion resources.
Foundations and government are willing to fund initiatives that can help keep students enrolled and saddled with the least amount of debt possible, and if colleges can import into traditional campus settings strategies that are typically used for online student engagement, they might be well-positioned to attract diverse students and match their enrollment with adequate support mechanisms.