Lessons About Online Learning

By Dr. Yoram Neumann and Dr. Edith Neumann

In its infancy, online learning was viewed as a more accessible alternative for students unable to commit to the traditional higher education path. But in recent years online education has been gaining more acceptance. The most recent U.S. Department of Education data from fall 2014 indicate that 5.8 million students took at least one online course, with 2.85 million of them studying exclusively online.

What have we learned about the factors in the online learning environment that directly or indirectly affect students’ learning performance? The following are best practices students can engage in for maximum results. They include a wide range of actions including scheduling classes for best advantage, interacting with peers and professors, and relating coursework to jobs.

Lessons Learned
The major factor that consistently predicts successful performance outcomes is the student’s skill at learning to learn. By this we mean the student’s ability to persist in learning through an awareness of his or her learning needs, to effectively search for information and raise questions, to manage time to focus on learning, and to acquire or use support mechanisms to overcome challenges. Students with a high learning-to-learn ability will successfully prepare in advance how to progress and benefit from their learning experiences as well as persevere in finding the path to learning, despite adverse circumstances.

● Engagement in a variety of learning activities and assignments — problem identification, problem solving, analytical tools, projects, reflective inquiry, discussions, critical thinking — enhances learning outcomes when a component of self-assessment is added to each of those activities.

● Engagement in a variety of learning activities and assignments improves learning outcomes when the feedback received from the professor and/or other learners is immediate (less than 24 hours), constructive, substantial and (in case of professor feedback) guides students in how to strengthen their learning efficacy.

● An eight-week session maximizes learning outcomes for adult learners (24 or older), compared to a four- or 12-week session. A 12-week session maximized learning outcomes for traditionally college-age students (23 or younger), compared to a four- or eight-week session.

● Courses with a project-based component, a threaded discussion or a self-reflective component result in higher learning outcomes compared with courses that don’t include them.

● Students who receive either professors’ or peers’ constructive feedback at least twice a week substantially outperform those who do not.

● Students who perform mid-session self-assessment with the professor’s constructive feedback on that self-assessment outperform students who do not.

● Students who submit their learning assignment ahead of the deadline outperform students who wait until the last minute.

● Students who participate in pre-course learning orientation activities (related to time planning, learning tips and a variety of supporting techniques) outperform students who do not.

● Students with high levels of student-faculty or student-to-student interactions in threaded discussions outperform students with lower levels of interactive learning.

● Students who received weekly tips directly from their professors encouraging them to take control of their learning activities outperform students who do not receive such tips.

● Students who can relate the signature assignment as well as the capstone to their work environment outperform students who cannot.

This article appeared in its entirety in Inside Higher Ed on May 3, 2016. www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/05/03/what-weve-learned-after-several-decades-online-learning-essay

About the authors:
Yoram Neumann is chief executive officer and university professor of business administration at Touro University Worldwide. Edith Neumann is provost and university professor of health sciences at Touro University Worldwide.