Seven Tips for Creating a Positive Online Learning Experience

Here are a few tips to ensure your students have a positive online learning experience.

Personal introductions. By using the personal introductions of students, an instructor can get to know his/her students better, thus allowing interaction with individual students in a more personal manner. When students see that the instructor is reaching out to them on a personal basis, it helps establish a rapport and put the student at ease.

Constant presence in the classroom. When students see that the instructor is very active and visible in the class—in discussion, in class postings, etc.—it reassures them that instructor is real, is interested in the class, and is there for individual students. This will have a big impact on student success because they know the instructor is around for questions and concerns AND it gives them a more positive feeling about being in the class.

Timely response to all student postings and assignments. First, responding in a timely manner will keep students from having hold assignments until they get clarification from the instructor. It is also crucial that the instructor give thorough and immediate feedback on all assignments so students can learn how to improve and can go on to the next assignment in a timely manner.

Be clear in all “housekeeping” aspects. Grading criteria, all contact information, policy on late submissions, “netiquette,” and other such items need be clearly defined so there is a minimum of confusion later on in the class. As I have taught more classes over the years, I have compiled an extended list of these based on student queries; posting these early in the class cuts down on student confusion and student emails asking about these items—a big time-saver for both student the instructor.

Give assignment feedback that is positive and that helps the student improve. Students must have feedback on assignments that lets them know how they are doing in the class (i.e., their grade), what they need do to improve, and what they are doing right. I give individual item feedback that is made up of three parts: what is wrong, why it is wrong, and how it can be made right; I also will give positive feedback for individual points that are outstanding; and I always include an overall positive comment at the end of the assignment.

Share tips, ideas, information, and personal perspectives to make the students feel more comfortable. All of these have one goal: to give additional understanding of the subject being discussed, written about, etc. Personal perspectives are especially helpful, including those of the students: it puts the subject matter in a “real life” context, it gets more students actively and enthusiastically involved in class, and creates a stronger rapport between the students and the online instructor.

Above all, be enthusiastic, friendly, and motivated. While the previous items are crucial, they really will amount to little if each is not infused with megadoses of sincere enthusiasm, friendliness, and motivation from the facilitator.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for more than 15 years and has a national reputation in the subject, both writing and conducting workshops on it. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his next book—How to Become the Perfect Online Instructor.

Excerpted from Teaching Online With Errol: Ensuring Student Success for a Positive Online Learning Experience, Online Classroom, July 2008.