Research On How Students Approach Online Learning

A new study is examining how students are interacting and using online education services.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched countless parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, and students try to suss out how to best get students to utilize the wide variety of online classes that are becoming readily available. The answer has been clear—for the most part—these educators are unable to make it happen. However, as technology evolves, the issue becomes more complex.

At Glossy News, we were curious about this same subject. We spoke with online educators, researchers, and experts about how students and educators are approaching online learning and what you can do to figure it out. What we found is that despite many schools providing the option for more personalized online learning, there’s a variety of approaches across the spectrum. Some people argue, to no avail, that the convenience of learning from home is enough to overcome other considerations, including the diminished commitment that usually comes with online courses. But for most students, professors don’t seem to understand students’ feelings and perspectives.

It’s not surprising then that institutions with more experience (and better expectations) appear to have achieved better results. When we asked some of our popular online professors who have been doing this for several years why their students have been more successful, they offered a few solutions.

1. Try to connect with students on a personal level

One of our instructors, Paula Sorvino, said, “Students tend to learn in a more deliberate way, taking time to collect and process information before making a decision. I think students benefit from individualized conversations and access to students who can serve as a reference and help guide them.”

Another program instructor, Amber Driscoll, echoes this sentiment: “I love being able to spend extra time with the students as we discuss their academic concerns as well as other topics such as helping their grades or avoiding pitfalls.”

2. Research online learning

As experts with years of experience, most of the people we spoke with recommended that you research online learning before getting started. Besides just breaking it down for you, studies have proven that if the majority of your course is online, your online learning may be diluted.

“One thing I would tell students is to come in with a plan and research online learning, including the types of courses that are taught and the wide range of options,” says Paige and Becky Blackman, founders of education start-up 7yearscompeten. “Then choose your classes and your instructors accordingly.”

Paula Sorvino agrees. “Often students are overwhelmed with the possibilities of what online learning can be, and it’s important to focus on the various aspects—online, brick and mortar, distance learning and individualize.”

3. Emphasize safety

A number of institutions that do not offer online courses have taken steps to make them safer for students. Central Michigan University, for example, includes safety guidelines and several checks on their website when their students are enrolled in online courses. Elsewhere, most schools have similar policies, and as a result, students who fear that an online learning environment is unsafe will probably have to take a risk.

“All students are entitled to safety and security,” says Ilona Garburek, Manager of Continuing Education at Renaissance College. “As online and blended learning continues to become part of the higher education landscape, students with reservations or interests, whatever they may be, can take courses on any type of platform. Safety should always be a part of any pedagogical interaction. If students have questions or suggestions for having a safe and successful online learning experience, the appropriate people should be part of the conversation.”

4. Do your research

Looking back at these four educators and online professors, the most important advice seems to be research.

“Linking professors from classes is never ideal, but it is certainly helpful for connecting with faculty and ensuring they know the kinds of things that matter to students,” notes Ilona Garburek. “Also, professors are incredible resource if students have questions.”

Dr. Mario D’Eon, professor of Management at NJIT, advocates for research. “Researching your syllabus is always a good idea—listening to podcasts, faculty blogs, and student reviews on websites such as, so the student knows how they are going to interact with the faculty. Also, it’s important to understand your university’s online learning policies and procedures—making sure you get an email or phone call from the office when required.”

5. Ask questions

Asking questions is key. So many online courses rely heavily on traditional classroom tools to keep the student engaged and engaged while the professor lectures, giving them few ways to question and ask questions. Do your homework, take notes

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