Two Easy Ways To Improve Student Satisfaction In Online Courses

Digital Promise, in partnership with Every Learner Everywhere and Tyton Partners, recently released the results of a new survey about students’ reactions and feedback to the move to online education following the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Fittingly named “Suddenly Online,” the survey received 1,008 responses from students studying at two or four-year institutions at the undergraduate level who had a class change from on-ground class sessions to fully online instruction due to the pandemic.

The survey results provide insight into the characteristics of emergency college courses as they were taught after the initial outbreak, the various challenges students faced after the transition to remote instruction, and course features associated with higher levels of student satisfaction.

Two key aspects of the online courses administered in the spring that had a major impact on student satisfaction were a sharp decrease in motivation and a lack of exposure to classmates. Luckily, technology can be leveraged to improve those aspects of remote learning and can dramatically increase the quality of online education moving forward.

Decrease In Motivation

The survey found that 42% of students cited difficulty staying motivated as a major problem. Some written responses to an open-ended question asking students to describe their greatest challenge in learning after courses moved online included:

  • “Self-motivation. With the world in chaos, it was hard to stay focused and motivated to mentally show up for class.”
  • “Being motivated to actually do it. When it was in person, I had a set time and place to do my work, but at home I never set up a schedule.”

This is certainly understandable given the many distractions in the spring and early summer, the lack of supervision and routine in remote learning, and the unexpected learning environment students were forced to work in.

But despite the many factors contributing to lack of motivation, institutions can reignite the passion in students to learn and work hard by facilitating and encouraging meaningful connections between students and faculty. Meaningful connections are often huge motivating forces for students to persist in their courses because they keep students engaged and emotionally invested in their learning.

This human connection is especially important for the times we’re living in, where it seems many institutions will continue with online education in the fall and beyond and the future is still filled with uncertainty.

The foundation that those connections are built on is consistent communication, which can be facilitated through technology.

A platform like CourseKey, which includes a student app with a designated channel for students to reach their instructors, can build consistent communication between students and faculty. Students can reach out to their instructors to ask about assignments, feedback, clarification on course material, deadlines, etc. Through a designated communication channel, students and their instructors can have an ongoing, private conversation, facilitating the valuable one-on-one attention that keeps students engaged and helps them persist through their course.

Giving students the chance to ask questions over an app is also a more student-friendly method of initiating communication in comparison to emails, which can feel reserved for high pressure situations. Some students may feel as though their question isn’t important enough to warrant an entire email, so they may not ask it at all. But by using an app, students will feel more comfortable (and encouraged!) asking questions.

Instructors can also be much more aware of open questions from students vs. resolved ones, because all student communication is organized by student, course, and topic. This increased organization helps instructors be sure to respond to every student without having to sift through emails that are irrelevant to class.

By adopting technology like CourseKey as part of the course design, institutions can facilitate consistent communication and cultivate meaningful relationships between students and instructors. Those human connections are powerful in increasing students’ motivation to complete their courses, especially in times of uncertainty and mounting distractions outside of school.

Lack Of Exposure To Classmates

Results from the “Suddenly Online” survey also found that two thirds of students said “opportunities to collaborate with other students on coursework” was the biggest element that was worse in remote settings when compared to on-ground courses. Students cited the lack of opportunities for discussions, decreased opportunities for collaboration (65% thought opportunities were worse or much worse online), and not feeling included as part of the class as aspects that led to decreased satisfaction (50% though worse or much worse online).

As one student put it: “Not being able to discuss topics with my classmates. Not being able to hear their questions on the subjects we were learning that could have helped me learn more.”

It’s no secret that interaction with classmates is vital to students learning, motivation, and overall satisfaction while attending school. And while physical group work with classmates remains difficult in remote settings, technology has evolved to facilitate collaboration between students and participation in class discussions.

Institutions can provide opportunities for students to interact and work together, whether that’s through video conferencing, chatrooms, collaboration tools like Google Docs, and more. Despite being remote, it’s still realistic for students to work together on projects and assignments.

Institutions can also provide class discussion opportunities for students that expose students to the viewpoints of their classmates, give them chances to debate topics, and feel included as part of the class.

The course-wide chat included with the CourseKey platform has proven to connect students with their classmates and make them feel part of a collective group instead of isolated at home. In the chat, students can ask questions, participate in debates and conversations, share supplemental materials like articles or videos, and more. Instructors can also use the chat to make announcements and lead conversations.

By supplementing the online course infrastructure with a designated channel for group conversations, institutions can help bridge the gap between students and their classmates, helping facilitate the interaction and engagement that was largely missing in emergency remote learning earlier this year.

Looking Ahead

As we enter the fall term, students expect that their institutions have devoted resources to improving and enhancing their online courses offering. Institutions no longer have the excuse of saying they were in crisis mode as a reason for administering low quality online courses.

While over 40% of students were dissatisfied with the quality of emergency remote learning in the spring, the survey revealed that there is potential to create online courses that provide effective and engaging learning opportunities that students enjoy and deem valuable. By introducing technology to course design, institutions can drastically improve their online course offering to keep student satisfaction high.

To learn more about how CourseKey’s suite of engagement and assessment tools can help your school create effective online courses, request a demo below.

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