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Research on Teaching Online

There is a body of research underlying effective online learning. A synthesis of some of the key findings suggests that the following attributes are important:

  • Interaction
    • Successful online courses are not simply a conglomeration of material and individual exercises.
    • Online faculty members tend to spend significant amounts of time providing feedback, facilitating discussion, and modeling online involvement.
    • Developing community through very intentional activities is time well spent.
  • Engagement
    • Not surprisingly, students who spend more time engaged with online materials/activities achieve at a significantly higher level.
    • Generally, students value the convenience and flexibility (logistics) of online learning but express concerns about reduced contact with peers and their professor, as well as a feeling of being overwhelmed as an individual.
    • Students who are self-reliant with an internal locus of control generally are the better achievers in online courses.
    • Monitoring student progress and intervening early when students need assistance can make a big difference in student retention and success.
  • Instructional Design
    • The quality of course layout / organization / navigation impacts learning.
    • Communication of high-level expectations (student learning outcomes) and specific directions for assignments / activities is vital.
    • A learner-centered approach to instructional design is more likely to generate student success and satisfaction.
  • Assessment
    • Tools available in the online environment actually can help provide more assessment and quicker feedback to students than traditional paper-based, face-to-face activities.
    • Frequent formative assessment and timely acknowledgement and feedback contribute to student success.

The following resources are well aligned with the best practices research outlined above.

  • Sloan Consortium for Quality Online Education
    Sloan-C has a variety of information services, events, and publications that will help you improve the development of your online and blended courses.
  • The Excellent Inevitability of Online Courses
    Margaret Brooks outlines eight reasons why universities should proudly — and without apology — offer online courses.
  • Teaching Online for the First Time – The Quick Guide
    Teaching online and within a course management system for the first time can feel like exploring a new and unfamiliar space: the individual components look familiar, but the overall feeling is quite different.  Judith Boettcher discusses ten practices that promote effective teaching online.
  • Implementing Best Practices in Online Learning
    A study of 21 institutions reveals common denominators for success in internet-supported learning.
  • Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses
    "Taking the perspective of a student enrolled in [an online] course, we began by identifying examples of each of Chickering and Gamson's seven principles. What we developed was a list of "lessons learned" for online instruction that correspond to the original seven principles."
  • What Does a High Quality Online Course Look Like?
    This website provides a rubric which delineates between baseline, effective, and exemplary levels of online course design across six dimensions: (1) Learner Support and Resource, (2) Online Organization and Design, (3) Instructional Design and Delivery, (4) Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning, (5) Innovative Teaching with Technology, and (6) Faculty Use of Student Feedback.
  • Distance Education Guidelines for Good Practice
    This report was prepared by the Higher Education Program and Policy Council of the American Federation of Teachers. It presents fourteen standards for quality design of distance education courses.

SLOAN-C Surveys

  • Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010
    The eighth annual Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that online enrollment grew by nearly one million students over a year earlier. Using results from more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide, the report finds approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2009.
  • Staying The Course - Online Education in the United States, 2008
    The 2008 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that enrollment rose by more than twelve percent from a year earlier. The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide finds approximately 3.94 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2007. The sixth annual survey, a collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group, the College Board and the Sloan Consortium, is the leading barometer of online learning in the United States.
  • Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning (2007)
    Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning represents the fifth annual report on the state of online learning in U.S. higher education. This year’s study, like those for the previous four years, is aimed at answering some of the fundamental questions about the nature and extent of online education. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and based on responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities, the study addresses the following key questions:
    • How Many Students are Learning Online?
    • Where has the Growth in Online Learning Occurred?
    • Why do Institutions Provide Online Offerings?
    • What are the Prospects for Future Online Enrollment Growth?
    • What are the Barriers to Widespread Adoption of Online Education?
  • Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006
    Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006 is based on data collected for the fourth annual national report on the state of online education in U.S. higher education. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the College Board, the report, based on responses from over 2,200 colleges and universities, examines the nature and extent of online learning among U.S. higher education institutions.
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 09/22/2009
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