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Orienting Students to Learning Online
Peter Holland
October 6, 2009
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Welcome to this seminar on
Orienting Students to Learning Online
Peter Holland is your Presenter today
I am an Adjunct Instructor in Business and Computer
Studies at Napa Valley College.
I have more than 10 years experience teaching in
Distance Education and currently teach Computerized
Accounting and Principles of Management on
Blackboard 8
If new online students are not oriented before taking
their first online class the likely consequences are:
• Low retention rates for these students
• Frustrated students who will be reluctant to take
further online classes
• Frustrated instructors who have to spend additional
time helping new students who do not understand
how the Learning Management System works and
even have difficulty understanding how to log in.
The Retention Problem
The student’s first experience with online learning
can be either:
• a barrier to retention, or
• a successful learning experience which encourages
the student to complete the class and take further
online classes
• In this seminar we will identify the major hurdles
faced by first time online students and examine
ways in which these can be overcome.
On of the of the underlying problems is that student expectations
do not match with college expectations.
For example:
• Students expect that online classes will be easier than
face-to-face study when they are often more demanding
Students do not realize that they become responsible
for their own learning and need time management skills
Students expect they will be able to work at their own
pace without deadlines and few online classes work that
Perceptions of Online
It’s very easy
• Students need to be aware, prior to enrolling in their
first online class, of the realities of online learning
and what is expected of them.
• Counselors need to be aware of the demands of
online classes and convey those to students
planning online classes and concentrations.
• Online teaching faculty need to reach out to
students as they enroll and prior to class start dates
and refer them to material explaining class
Hurdles for new Students
Identified hurdles:
1. Matching Expectations
Use of Technology
One of the common difficulties new online students
meet is that they are not PC wise.
There is an assumption that today’s social
communication wise generation students are very
PC software skilled.
Some maybe but many reaching their first online
classes are not.
Here also there is an assumption that the population
of online classes is similar to face-to-face classes.
However, many online classes include adult
learners returning to college after years of absence
with only internet browsing and e-mail experience.
The Hardware and
Software Needs
A vital requirement for an online student is a reliable
computer and access to the necessary software and
the ability to load and use it.
Computers are not yet 100% reliable ( and may never
be!) and students are blissfully unaware that that
they need a fallback option.
“My computer broke down” is no excuse for online
students in a world that is densely populated by
So lets add these technology items to our list of
identified hurdles for the new online students.
Hurdles for New Students
Hurdles identified
1. Matching Expectations
2. Minimum initial technology skills
3. Need for at least minimum standard
hardware and the necessary software
Internet Availability
Not just any internet connection will meet the needs of
online students.
• Fast Internet connections are not available for all
students and can depend on their geographical
• At the same time fast connections may not be within
students’ financial means.
• A slow dialup connection may make online study
frustrating with long download times.
New online students are often unaware of this
Hurdles for New Students
Hurdles identified
1. Matching Expectations
2. Minimum initial technology skills
3. Need for minimum standard
hardware and software
4. Availability of a good internet connection
The Learning
Management System
Now we have reached one of the shocks for new online
students — their course is delivered by a strange
looking Website which needs a user name and
password in a particular format to enter it.
It then requires them to use a variety of Web pages of
increasing complexity and download and upload
content to and from their PCs.
Many students are initially overwhelmed particularly if
their class study starts at the same time.
Now they experience the “loneliness of the online
Hurdles for new students
Hurdles identified
1. Matching Expectations
2. Minimum initial technology skills
3. Need for minimum standard
hardware and software
4. Availability of a good internet connection
5. The shock of the Learning Management System
Need for Induction of
New Students
So there is a need to tackle these hurdles before
students commit themselves to online learning by
joining a full online class.
The expectations of the students must be matched
with reality.
Making sure that counselors are fully aware of the
requirements placed on new online students and
convey those requirements is an essential part of
the process. Ideally they should have undertaken an
online class themselves so they have hands on
Instructor Role
As soon as a students enroll in an online class they need to be
fully advised of the class requirements especially the
requirement to meet deadlines and the expected work load.
This is particularly important for new online students.
One way to do this is to e-mail the students when they enroll
and direct them to the Instructor’s Website where they can
view the class syllabus and some details of the class.
There are two presumptions here which are not always met:
That the college requires all instructors, full or part time to
have websites
That online students are required to provide a valid e-mail
address at enrollment.
Other Orientation
In my experience there are a number of often
somewhat uncoordinated measures used to try and
overcome the hurdles we identified.
Students are referred once they reach a online
webpage on their college site to take a short quiz to
determine their suitability for online training. There
is not always any follow up to this.
Instructors are often expected to orient the students
in the early week or weeks of their classes.
Sometimes this is done online but frequently done
with a classroom session. This is all very well but
what about students remote from the college.
The ideal situation
The ideal solution for online students enrolling in a
class is that they are not new, in the sense that they
have experienced an online class, however short.
This online class should have given them a hands-on
experience of the requirements, limitations, and
knowledge required for success in online classes.
It should fill indentify their gaps in PC knowledge, let
them experience the need for the students to form a
learning community, know how to find technical
help, and perhaps most important of all become
skilled in the use of the Learning Management
An Online Orientation
An online orientation class will give students hands-on
training and experience with online learning.
It is inclusive in that it reaches not only students in the
immediate college area but reach those who:
are not physically able to travel to the college
have fulltime work and/or family commitments
are located elsewhere in California or are
temporally overseas
An outline for an online
It needs to be a full time class for two or three weeks
to give the students practice in time management
and the pressure of an online class.
Lets examine a possible class structure
Learning Modules
Suggested Learning Modules
1. Using Mail
Step by step how to use mail to establish communication with
Instructor. Communicate with other students. Netiquette
Overview of online learning
Why so popular. Advantages and disadvantages.LMS tips e.g. use of
F11, closing pages, alerts for new material.
The College online
General description of the LMS used and college support.
Technology, software and help with LMS
Hardware needs including need for PC backup Software down loading.
Dealing with log in problems
Step by step presentations on use of threaded discussions, blogs,
social site, student to student help desk. Followed by practice
projects. Includes student introductions with pictures
More Learning Modules
Step by step presentation on quizzes and surveys followed by
practice Quizzes on class material.
Step by step presentations on completion and submission of
assignments. Followed by practice assignments.
Other Course Tools.
Calendar and gradebook(used throughout class), Student
Tools, and Chat Room with practice exercise.
Learning Styles
Student personal learning styles assessment
Why is Online Orientation
not the norm?
• It needs to be a required class. There are obstacles
to making it a prerequisite at many colleges.
• Few students will take it as a voluntary class
because of time and cost.
• It needs to be incorporated into associate degree
requirements or online associate degree
• It involves an additional staffing in a tight funding
• It takes an online teacher to know how necessary it
Comments from Students
These student comments unedited from a survey
taken at the end of such an orientation class.
Although I'm new to the online experience I noticed that a lot of
my class mates had already taken other online classes or were
currently enrolled in online classes, which led me to think that
this class is not just for students such as myself but in fact all
students can benefit from this class.
Great class. I think it should be a prerequisite for any online
schooling to be done. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed
interacting with other students in these lessons.
• Valuable information taught and given for adequate success as
an online student.
I feel very prepared to tackle any online class
• This class should be required for anyone taking online
The comment I liked best
I am glad I took this class as I realize now that I learn
best in a normal classroom.
That’s it!
• My loyal Siamese student has had enough!
Peter Holland
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