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Improving the online student experience – Are your students getting what they need from your course?

While customer experience (ie. student experience) is a buzz word at the moment, how often do we truly think about the impact of the decisions we make and the impact it will have on their education? With the ever-increasing options for the delivery of digital education, how often do time, money, a limited of understanding of alternative options, or a lack of organisational consistency result in a poor educational experience? If our goal is to educate, let’s ensure that technology takes a back seat to high quality, easy to navigate learning. Our students should be focusing all their brainpower on learning, not on how to navigate or understand our courses.

Thinking objectively, if an online student were to access your course right now, would they be able to easily access all the learning materials they required, in the format they wanted, and when they wanted it?

What they want

How often do we develop a course in the way we know, or how we ourselves have participated in online education in the past? Taking a step back and thinking a little bit outside the box and determining what a specific cohort of students may need in order to gain the education outcomes we are aiming for, can vastly change the way we design our courses.

Do our students need more instruction on a particular concept/s? Do they need more interactive elements (in most cases the answer to this question is yes)? Do they need synchronous sessions throughout the course to provide a community of practice and connection to teaching staff? Every subject area and student cohort will be different, but if we don’t step back and think about this as part of our course design we are doing a disservice to our students.

Time allocated to course development means too often we do not consider the best way to teach a concept to a student in an online environment, but instead develop the course based on what is most economical to develop. Taking a step back and considering how best a concept could be taught and then considering how technology could be used to make this happen, will result in a much better student experience, better course completions, and less rework of the course in the near future (resulting in potential time saved in course development over time).

When they want

Are you releasing your learning materials all at once, or releasing based on set criteria (eg. student’s completing set tasks or once a certain date has been reached)? Depending on your student cohort and their learning preferences, these can both impact their ability to learn in different ways. If a student is anxious about completing online study, seeing a whole course worth of materials at one time could be overwhelming.

On the other hand, restricting students access to materials based on set criteria, when they wish to proceed to the next section or understand the wider context of the materials they are currently studying, can be equally as off-putting. Compare it to the student who gets confronted when being handed an entire textbook and asked to go away and learn everything it contains, to the student who wants the ability to read ahead of the rest of the class.

Understanding the types of students undertaking your online course and how to best provide them with the material they want, when they want it, will assist them in successfully completing your course.

We also need to consider how we ensure equal access to our online courses for students no matter when they wish to study. What if your students work during the day and wish to study at night time? What if they can only study on weekends? If your online course has any synchronous elements, have these students needs been taken into consideration and alternative times outside of standard business hours been made available? How do these students get the support they need, if they need to speak with a teacher or support service? Ensuring equity to access to education is a big part of creating a space for student success.

How they want

Thinking about how our students are accessing our online courses is the next important element in both choosing the right technologies to host our learning materials and in ensuring our courses are designed with consideration of how these will be utilised and on what devices. Of course, this comes back to the old consideration of bandwidth, age of technology used, bring your own device (BYOD), etc.

But it goes further than that:

Are our students using a mobile device instead of a computer (mobile access of information is ever-increasing)?

Are they taking ten minutes while waiting for a coffee to complete a bit size chunk of learning?

Are they looking towards the future and wishing to engage with simulation-based, augmented or virtual reality-based learning?

Our students come to our courses with expectations around what they will receive and how they plan to study. We need to ensure we are observing the changes in the way our courses are utilised and customise our technologies and course designs accordingly.

Catherine Duncan

Catherine Duncan

Catherine is a learning technologies and digital education practitioner with over twelve years experience across a variety of industries. She enjoys using her technical, educational and creative knowledge to assist organisations in determining their technical and/or training requirements and assisting them in finding the optimum solution.

One thought on “Improving the online student experience – Are your students getting what they need from your course?

  • Very thought-provoking post Catherine!
    “[learners]… come to our courses with expectations around what they will receive and how they plan to study.”
    Very true.
    You have helped me reflect on our MoodleBites (www.moodlebites.com) course outlines – and how well they help learners understand what and how they will be using the courses 🙂


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