5 Data-Informed Tips for Transitioning from Remote Learning to Online Learning


May 21, 2020

The abrupt move from in-person to virtual instruction impacted several of the program evaluation projects that The Rucks Group team works on. In response, we developed survey items that instructors could disseminate to understand the impact of this transition on students and to aid in the decision-making process moving forward. We have started to gather data from the survey findings to understand students’ experience of the transition to non-face-to-face (non-f2f) instruction. The key emerging finding is that students like, or are at least OK with, online learning but not remote learning.

Remote and online learning are two distinguishable types of virtual or non-f2f instruction. Remote learning is the mere use of technology as a platform, whereas, online learning involves a more thoughtful approach to instructional design to optimize learning.

Our analysis of these new data found that instructors who were able to deliver virtual courses that resemble the careful design and planning of multi-dimensional online learning experiences were reported more favorably with students than those instructors who were not able to utilize technology as a pedagogical tool beyond a delivery system. Specifically, our emerging findings point to five tips for instructors as they consider designing courses for summer and fall terms.

1. Ensure high levels of communication and responsiveness to students.

Students’ responses to surveys suggest that what they found most effective in the non-f2f learning environment were “communicative and responsive” instructors. Responsiveness could have been through email, phone, or the availability to talk before or after class via the technology used to deliver the course. Conversely, students rated instructors who were not highly communicative as the least effective.

2. Allow more time for questions.

Students who had not previously taken a virtual course,  reported that they preferred f2f instruction because it is a more optimal learning environment. One reason for this preference is that it is easier for students to ask questions in-person. To translate the “ease” of asking questions to a virtual environment, we are finding that instructors need to allow more time (perhaps what feels like an unnatural long period of time) for questions, because of the time lag in technology.

3. Facilitate more student-to-student interaction.

Based on the emerging data, another challenge of the non-f2f learning environment is the diminished natural or informal learning that occurs among students. Increasing student-to-student interaction could be remedied by having students introduce themselves at the beginning of each class, using the break-out room function in Zoom, or other online options for small-group meetings that allow students to interact with each other. In regards to how to incorporate these types of interactions, responses were mixed, however, they suggest that students prefer organic connections with classmates and not required interactions.

4. Include helpful supplemental resources.

Students particularly appreciated supplemental resources such as videos, PowerPoint slides and lecture recordings, but only if these resources were perceived as “helpful.” Based on students responses, “helpful” it interpreted as resources that truly aid in the understanding of learning objectives.

Supplemental resources were considered the least effective when supplemental resources such as homework and practice materials were not related to the chapter content; videos that did not cover the topics that students needed; insufficient video options; or items that students could not access because of technical problems.

5. Set clear expectations.

When instructors were able to set clear expectations for deadlines and use of the related technologies, students considered this an effective approach. For examples, some students reported that quizzes were unfair or not appropriate. Based on students’ overall responses, it may have been because clear expectations about what topic areas would be covered on examinations.

We know that teaching non-f2f in response to COVID-19—has been extremely challenging and took considerable energy because of the haste of these transitions and the health concerns that lingered in the background. It important to note that university and community college students, alike, reported appreciating instructors’ efforts in making this transition.

We hope these tips based on actual emerging data help instructors reassess their non-f2f teaching and move toward creating effective online learning environments.

For additional advice visit https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

For more on the rapid transition to virtual instruction visit https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning.