What contributes to student achievements or success in a course delivered online? To consider the problem from a different perspective one can pose the problem this way—that is ultimately responsible when students are not successful—when they fail the course for instance? Is it the student for not having the discipline for online tutoring and learning? The teacher for not providing support, or the institution for not offering services to support the online learner? There are three actors involved in the process of students learning online, 1) the institution, 2) instructor and 3) the student.
1) The Institution: Student Support Services via the Institution
One characteristic of institutions providing successful online programs or courses is their ability to support the unique requirements of distance students through a learner support services function. As online courses evolve and mature we now have various programs to study and examine. Though each unique, there is a common theme—a focus on the students by acknowledging their diverse requirements and challenges of studying online.
Services for online learners need to be customized, re-tooled from those offered to traditional students. Services should include academic advising, technical support, online community programs and clubs, career planning and library services. Few institutions have gone further and developed courses that offer personalized academic support. This program or course is unique; it is not a subject matter coaching program, but a mentoring program where the aim is for experts to assist students implement and identify strategies that promote motivation, independence and active learning.
2) The Instructor: Course Design and Instructor Support
There are two areas that fall under the tutor support: 1) instructional support and 2) course design.
Course design plays an important role in students’ potential for online tutoring and learning, given that learners engage with course content, instructor and peers during the course platform. The technique in which course content is presented on the course site, the instructions for activities or assignments are written, even the structure and order of the tabs on the course home page have an effect on how the students connect with the course, will potentially affect learners’ knowledge.
“Design features incorporated in the learning guide and the system course development, will create an atmosphere in which learners are confident of their pathway, and the only hurdle is the course content, not the navigation of the course and figuring out what must be done in order to finish the course ,this focus on course design, will free you up to spend the semester teaching and interacting with students rather than solving problems about course navigation or particular directions about assignments.”
The expert’s role in online courses will vary depending upon the nature of the course or program, but more significantly expert’s behavior will be a function of the level of students academic background and learners’ skill level in the areas mentioned above. To assess what level students are at when entering the course, ideally the expert does so through involvement in discussion forums, synchronous activities, course introductions, etc. that permit the expert to get to know students. Tutors also can do so by reviewing student work early in the course thus she or he can give detailed feedback, challenge the student, advise external writing support as needed, etc.
The goal is that the tutors focus on challenging students academically in the online course via interaction and feedback; individually and as a class. Support for research, technical, and basic educational skills should be offered by the institution, via support services. Institutions should also provide professional development courses or programs, resources and workshops to support online tutors and faculty in course instruction and development.
3) The Student:
The student is ultimately responsible for her or his achievements and success in the learning process; it is up to her or him to leverage the resources of the institute and the support of the tutor. There is an helpful tool however, a leader readiness questionnaire, that various institutions make available on its sites which identifies the tools and skills students will require to be successful with their online courses and studies. Also the concept of giving the responsibility of learning to the students is another way to encourage success—letting students knows they are ultimately responsible.
Supporting student success in online course via online tutoring work begins with the institution—ideally with a strategic schedule that includes a system for provision of academic counseling, and administrative services and support specific to online learners, with comprehensive resources and professional development for experts teaching online. Yet to get the maximum value of support provided by the institution and tutor, the students needs to own the learning, and know the task for success ultimately rests with her or him.