Recent studies have suggested that generally online students are more dissatisfied with online learning compared to traditional classroom satisfaction levels. Student dissatisfaction not only affects the student’s success, it also affects attrition rates and institutional funding so it is important to define the qualities that are necessary for student success in an online learning environment.
Students who are ready to successfully interact in an online environment have excellent time management skills, are personally motivated to succeed and have incorporated their respective learning style into the online learning experience. In addition, “qualities that may explain individual differences in academic achievement, completion rates and levels of satisfaction with online learning, fall into the categories of technical skills, computer self-efficacy, learning preferences and attitudes towards computers” (Hitendra Pillay)
So, how do we assess a student’s readiness for online learning based on these four principles: technical skills, computer self-efficacy, learning preferences and attitudes towards computers? Pillay, Irving and Tone suggest “The Tertiary students’ readiness for online learning survey (TSROL)” which is an attempt to consolidate several diagnostic tools into a single, more inclusive mechanism of assessing the student’s alacrity to engage in online classes.
Traditional online student preparation ranges from testing to a certain proficiency skill level to allowing any student who has Internet access to register for an online class. In the paper “Coming and Going in all Directions: Preparing Students for Online Learning”, Lujean Baab suggests that we adapt a sort of “treasure hunt”, in which the instructor sets “a list of required tasks that must be completed by a date prior to the start of the class” (Baab) These tasks can include interacting with a listserv item, sending emails with an attachment, participate in a chat room session, answer technical specification questions about their computer using an online form, or have the student simply organize their email messages by creating folders and sending the screenshot as an attachment in an email. Realistically, if the student can perform these simple technical tasks, they should be computer literate enough to successfully navigate through an online class.
According to Martinez, Torres and Giesel, while many educational institutions recognize the need to assess technical skills as a prerequisite to participating in online classes, “the need at this point in the development and expansion of online instruction is for identification of best practices in determining student readiness and in facilitating student success in an online environment. “ (Martinez, Torres and Giesel) There is a plethora of Best Practice information on the Online Student Support’s “Determining Student Readiness” web site.
The University of Minnesota’s Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Minnesota blog hosts several interesting articles about assessing student readiness and enhancing online curriculum. The blog “More dropout in online classes: What should we do?” which refers to the results of the Online and Hybrid Course Enrollment and Performance in Washington State Community and Technical Colleges study that tracked enrollment patterns and academic outcomes in online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses for nearly five years.
Three main insights came from that study according to Hwang:
• Online students carry more pressure from outside obligations
• High drop-out rate is a results of poor online curriculum design
• Increased amount of self-discipline is required for an online student
Three action items are needed to reduce online class drop out rates:
- Faculty Training
- University of Minnesota resources and services for online instructors includes “Quality Matters”
- ”Faculty Development for Online Teaching” on U of M iTunes U podcast
- Assess Student Readiness
- Strength and Weakness assessment and Technical Skills assessments are used by the University of Minnesota
- Online learning assessment web site
- Additional Student Support
In addition, a few Minnesota colleges are using a tool called SmarterMeasure to assess student’s readiness for the online learning environment with great success. The SmarterMeasure web site has a Research page that shares results of research results, assessment details, item reliability, usage patterns and case studies. The 2011 Student Readiness Report showed three-year trending analysis to help online programs understand what makes a successful online learner. The white paper released with Noel-Levtiz showed a direct correlation between measured areas of SmarterMeasure and student retention. (SmarterMeasure)
No matter the tool(s) we use, it is imperative to provide a means for students to assess whether or not they are prepared to participate in an online class and succeed. “The dynamic nature of the online environment precludes any final word on the subject. The only definite word at this point is that institutions must continue to assess student readiness for learning in the online environment in order to develop appropriate and timely strategies to promote student success.” (Martinez, Torres and Giesel)
Baab, Lujean. “Coming and Going in all Directions: Preparing Students for Online Learning.” 00 04 1999. Teaching in the Community Colleges Online Conference. 02 07 2012 <http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcon99/papers/baab.html>.
Hitendra Pillay, Kym Irving and Megan Tones. “Validation of the diagnostic tool for assessing Tertiary students’ readiness for online learning.” 00 06 2007. Higher Education Research & Development Vol. 26, No. 2. 03 07 2012 <http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&id=doi:10.1080/07294360701310821>.
Hwang, Seogjoo. More dropout in online classes: What should we do? 08 09 2011. 03 07 2012 <http://blog.lib.umn.edu/tel/blog/2011/09/more-dropout-in-online-classes.html>.
Martinez, Helen Torres and Giesel. Determining Student Readiness for Online Instruction. 00 00 2006. 03 07 2012 <http://www.onlinestudentsupport.org/Monograph/readiness.php>.
SmarterMeasure. SmarterMeasure Research. <http://smartermeasure.com/research/>.