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5 Ways to Improve the Online Learning Experience

by Rachel Hicks | December 9, 2019
5 Ways to Improve the Online Learning Experience

It’s no secret: Online learning is growing as a way to earn an education. From Fall 2016 to Fall 2017, overall postsecondary enrollment decreased by nearly 100,000 students, or half a percentage point. At the same time, the number of students who enrolled in at least one online class grew by more than 350,000 students. That's nearly 6 percent! Further, around two-thirds of students expect to do some or all of their learning through online education.

However, as I noted in a previous blog about my own experiences as an online learner, the experience calls forth its own set of challenges. Both students and the colleges and universities that serve them go through these challenges. For instance, institutions might feel pressure to keep their students engaged when they’re not on campus. Also, as online learning continues to grow, they may question how to scale their efforts to meet demand. At the same time, students may feel lonely and a lack of encouragement when they don’t have advisors and instructors to cheer them on face-to-face.

To help institutions meet the challenges of online learning, we’ll talk about ways to improve the online learning experience for students.

What today’s online students are like

Before we dive into ways to improve the online learning experience for students, we must first talk about what these students are like. This is a tricky topic. Online learners are no exception to the changing demographics of today’s college populations. A “typical” college student is a thing of the past. However, there are some trends to look for when it comes to online learners.

Best Colleges released a report noting trends in students who pursue their education online. The report breaks down online learners into three groups: recent high school grads, career-minded students, and lifelong learners. Most of today’s online students and prospects are career-minded. More and more, they want their institutions to show them the employment outcomes of graduates. They want to know what type of future they can build with their educational pathway. This is a trend to keep in mind when communicating with both prospects and current students.

Scaling outreach

It can seem difficult to scale outreach efforts to a growing and diverse student body. This problem is compounded with distance learning options that allow for even more students to attend your institution. Without being able to scale outreach efforts to match your student population, students can begin to feel like they’re just a number.

This demand is why engaging students via a powerful text messaging platform is such an impactful solution. For instance, with Signal Vine, staff can scale their communications without losing that crucial one-on-one, personal vibe. Staff can message tens, or thousands, or tens of thousands, or – of course – just one – student at a time. These messages can be segmented to send only to the students who need them. Some students will have questions. Some of these questions can be answered through triggered responses or the Virtual Advisor. Students whose questions were not predicted can receive help from a real staff member. This helps students get the answers they need without increasing the hectic workloads of institutional staff. As a result, scaling is possible, personal, and targeted.

5 ways to improve the online learning experience

Now that we’ve discussed the needs and traits of today’s online students, we can dive into how staff can improve the online learning experience for students.

1. Make every communication with your students targeted and personal.

Nothing will make students flag your messages as spam quicker than sending them lots of messages that aren’t relevant to them. Instead, use those messages as a chance to share something of relevance. This could be something as widespread as announcing holiday breaks or as personal as providing students with resources relevant to the degree they’re earning.

ways to improve the online learning experience

2. Share relevant employment information with students and prospects.

This tip will help you address the growing concerns of students in terms of employment once they earn their degree. You might consider reaching out to your prospects to share the skills they’ll need for their area of interest. You can go into detail about how your institution will help them gain those skills. For current students, you might motivate them to continue their degree by sharing positive employment statistics. Again, the key is to make the message both relevant and personal to the student or prospect.

ways to improve the online learning experience

3. Check in on your online learners.

Regular wellness checks are great for students who are on campus. However, these check-ins are just as, if not more, important for online learners. Because online learners are on campus less than their on-campus counterparts, they may be more prone to feeling isolated. It’s crucial that these students feel well-supported, no matter how far away they are from campus.

ways to improve the online learning experience

4. Encourage students to participate in activities.

This tip will also help combat students’ feelings of isolation. Whether your college offers virtual or in-person events, encouraging students to participate in them can help remind them that they are part of your school’s community.

ways to improve the online learning experience

5. Send messages of encouragement to students.

Whether students are doing well in their classes or could use an extra push, messages of encouragement can go a long way. Staff might choose to send a different message to different students, depending on their situations. For instance, staff might send a “great job” message to students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. They might craft a different message with resources for students with lower GPAs. This targeted approach will help students remember they have someone at their college in their corner.

ways to improve the online learning experience

Learn more

To learn more about how to improve the educational experience for your students, visit our Resources page.

How to Engage At-Risk Students to Meet Your Retention Goals
How to Engage At-Risk Students to Meet Your Retention Goals
The Student Retention Guidebook

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