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Best Practices in Online Education

Authors:
  • Beyond Campus Innovations

Abstract

This paper represents a literature review on research-based best practices in online higher education.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 1
In Search of Definitive Best Practices for Online Higher Education
Literature Review
Noah Antisdel
University of the Cumberlands
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Table of Contents
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 4
Findings by Subtopic ...................................................................................................................... 5
Adult Learner Characteristics ...................................................................................................... 5
Self-Directed ............................................................................................................................ 5
Experienced .............................................................................................................................. 9
Motivated ............................................................................................................................... 10
Other Noteworthy Characteristics .......................................................................................... 12
Summary ................................................................................................................................ 13
Gaps in the Literature ............................................................................................................. 14
Curriculum Development .......................................................................................................... 14
Defending the Legitimacy of Online Education .................................................................... 15
Laying the Foundation ........................................................................................................... 17
Learning Methods .................................................................................................................. 20
Importance of Instructional Designers ................................................................................... 21
Asynchronous Curriculum ..................................................................................................... 21
Social Presence ....................................................................................................................... 23
Summary ................................................................................................................................ 24
Gaps in the Literature ............................................................................................................. 24
Course Development ................................................................................................................. 25
Instructional Design Process .................................................................................................. 25
Adult Learning Theories ........................................................................................................ 26
Jarvis’ Learning Process......................................................................................................... 26
Contextualized, Situated & Ecological Learning ................................................................... 26
Constructivism ....................................................................................................................... 27
Visual Learning Theory ......................................................................................................... 27
Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (VAK) Learning .............................................................. 28
Connectivism .......................................................................................................................... 28
Online Learning Communities ............................................................................................... 28
Online Discussion Forums ..................................................................................................... 30
Summary ................................................................................................................................ 31
Gaps in the Literature ............................................................................................................. 32
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Instructors .................................................................................................................................. 32
Instructor Role in Online Education....................................................................................... 32
Online Faculty Development ................................................................................................. 32
Teacher Presence .................................................................................................................... 34
Summary ................................................................................................................................ 36
Gaps in the Literature ............................................................................................................. 36
Technology ................................................................................................................................ 37
Ease of Use and Cost .............................................................................................................. 37
Adaptive Learning Programs ................................................................................................. 38
Various Technologies to Assist Online Education ................................................................. 39
Summary ................................................................................................................................ 40
Gaps in the Literature ............................................................................................................. 40
Discussion ..................................................................................................................................... 41
Recommendations for Future Research ..................................................................................... 41
Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 41
References ..................................................................................................................................... 42
Appendices .................................................................................................................................... 49
Appendix A................................................................................................................................ 49
Appendix B ................................................................................................................................ 54
Appendix C ................................................................................................................................ 55
Appendix D................................................................................................................................ 57
Appendix E ................................................................................................................................ 58
Appendix F ................................................................................................................................ 60
Appendix G................................................................................................................................ 62
Appendix H................................................................................................................................ 64
Appendix I ................................................................................................................................. 66
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Introduction
The purpose of this literature review is to assimilate a diverse body of research into a
system of best practices for online, higher education. This study includes results from
organizational behavior, psychology, learning theory, adult learning, internet technology,
computer assisted learning, higher education, neurology, and many other interrelated topics.
This literature review seeks to answer the following question: What is the most effective
way to formally educate adults in an accelerated online format? It is doubtful that the answer
can be conclusively determined solely through a review of existing literature. The breadth of
research pertaining to the interrelated components of this paper is far beyond the scope here. The
ultimate intent of the author is to leverage the findings of this review for a long-term study aimed
at developing a new methodology for efficiently and effectively educating adult learners in an
accelerated online environment.
The author structured the paper by topic rather than by the chronology of the reviewed
studies or the studies’ author names. Many studies produced information relevant to multiple
topics, and therefore are explained partially in each topic, as is relevant to the topic. There are six
fundamental components of online higher education (adult learner characteristics, curriculum
development, course development, assessment, instructor roles, and technology). Due to the
overwhelming abundance of research on each of these six components, this paper will convey
the findings of the first three in detail, then the latter two in brief, followed by discussion and
conclusion sections. The topic of assessment represents another massive literature review of its
own, with hundreds or thousands of completed studies to evaluate. Despite the vast spectrum of
reviewed studies, many consistent best practices reveal themselves. Many of these are located in
the Appendices in outline form.
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Findings by Subtopic
Adult Learner Characteristics
Many theorists, researchers, and practitioners have identified sets of characteristics
common among successful adult learners. This paper omits the publications of the original
theorists (i.e. Knowles, Kolb, Houle, Bloom, Piaget, Erickson, Jarvis, Gardner, etc.) in order to
better focus on the findings of researchers who tested elements of those foundational theories.
The goal is to identify best practices of application rather than evaluate theories.
Malcolm Knowles established the most commonly referenced set of adult learning
characteristics. You will see many of these repeated in varying forms throughout the research.
These features include the following six:
Has an independent self-concept and can direct his or her own learning…
Has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning
Has learning needs closely related to changing social roles
Is problem-centered and interested in immediate application of knowledge
Is motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors
Adults need to know why they need to learn something (Merriam, 2006, p. 22)
Self-Directed
Many published studies support the first characteristic, which states that adults prefer to
be self-directed. We will present the relevant findings of several of these studies here. Holt
conducted a thorough meta-analysis of peer-reviewed, published studies on adult learning
theories for his 2010 dissertation. Among his conclusions was a strong link between self-
direction and success, with maturity level serving as a mediating variable. In agreement, he
quoted Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner (2007):
Although there is some variance across these studies in the amount and type of self-
directed learning that goes on in the general population, we can say
without
reservation that the existence of the independent pursuit of learning in adulthood has
been established. (p. 111)
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Holt goes on to review and agree with Dewey (1966), Knowles (1984), and Kolb (1984),
saying that “learners need to be involved with the learning plan,” as well as Glennon (2004)
The learner should be actively involved in shaping the purpose and direction of the
learning
place (Holt, 2010, p. 130-131). Holt also referenced in agreement the findings of Dynan, Cate, &
Rhee (2008). Their research revealed that n
ot all learners are ready for self-directedness and
can benefit from it only in proportion to their level of maturity.
This clarified that self-
directedness correlates with age, but with maturity as a mediator variable. In fact, very few
eighteen year olds in 21st Century America qualify as “adult learners,” due to underdeveloped
maturity levels. This is why many adult education programs specify that students be older than
21 to enroll, including Colorado Christian University’s College of Adult and Graduate Students.
Overall, Holt did great research in assimilating findings, but produced no statistical evidence in
support of the findings. However, he was in agreement with the author of this paper that “a
single unified 'theory' of adult learning is neither desirable or possible, that learning cannot be
construed as a solely mental process existing within the mind of an individual” (2010, p. 60).
Rather, the goal is to evaluate and extract those applicable components.
Moore and Kearsley’s 2011 textbook on distance education included the results of many
highly regarded studies. They quoted Puzziferro’s 2008 study, which evaluated three component
variables of the self-directed learning construct (self-efficacy, study environment choice, and
effort regulation). Although there was not a statistically significant relationship between self-
efficacy and performance, there was with the latter two variables. Moore and Kearsley
additionally referenced the results of Barnard-Brak, et al (2010). They identified five profiles of
self-regulating learning that consistently appeared across samples (“super self-regulators,
competent self-regulators, forethought-endorsing self-regulators, performance/reflection self-
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regulators, and non/minimal self-regulators”) (p. 226). In support of the importance of self-
direction, they found that the lower levels of self-regulation corresponded with poorer academic
achievement. Moore and Kearsley also included Conrad’s 2009 findings, one of which stated,
“successful learners demonstrated insightful self-knowledge in using meta-cognitive strategies”
(p. 226).
In Borup’s 2012 study of English language learners (also discussed later in this paper), he
cited and acknowledged agreement with several researchers on the importance of self-direction
among adult online learners. In particular, he drew attention to the fact that “students with low
self-regulation may find it difficult to fully participate in asynchronous online discussions
(Michinov, Brunot, Le Bohec, Juhel, & Delaval, 2011; Puzziferro, 2008; Shea & Bidjerano,
2010)” (p. 48-49).
Grabe (2014) followed up on the work of Bol & Hacker, 2001; Bol, Hacker, O’Shea, &
Allen, 2005; Hacker et al., 2008; Hacker, Bol, Horgan, & Rakow, 2000, regarding the use of
calibration as a measure of self-directed learning ability. Calibration refers to one’s ability to
accurately predict one’s own performance. Grabe’s findings corroborated the earlier studies,
supporting the notion that accurate self-directed calibration predicts better exam performance. In
other words, those students with better self-directed learning perform better academically.
Grabe’s work additionally clarified that both local and global calibration serve as predictors as
well as an additional related variable that assessed one’s certainty about one’s calibrations.
Grabe’s study did an excellent job of identifying potential confounds and controlling for them.
The strength of these findings are limited, however, due to the localized (undiversified)
population sample (158 undergraduate psychology students at a single Midwestern university).
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As can be seen from these studies and the studies they build upon, the self-directed
characteristic clearly and significantly correlates with online adult education performance.
Students with better self-direction (usually the more mature students) have performed better
academically. Because this has been so strongly demonstrated, some researchers have branched
out, assuming this to be evident. Some have produced support for specific ways to prepare adults
to be more successful at online learning. George Piskurich, an experienced adult educator,
published an entire book on this topic in 2003, titled Preparing Learners for eLearning. This is a
relatively early example of a researcher providing supported recommendations on how to prepare
adults to be more effective at self-directed online learning. Since that early publication, many
more researchers and practitioners have published their own two cents.
Mary Lowe contributed a review of each of Knowles’ principles in Maddix (2012).
Concerning the self-directed characteristic, she accepted and affirmed it as positively correlated
with successful adult learning. However, she also commented that not all “adults” qualify, due to
lower levels of maturity. In agreement with Vygotsky (1978), she recommended scaffolding the
curriculum, gradually reducing the amount of academic and relational support as the student
matured into higher levels of self-direction. Additionally, she reported that some adults actually
resist education because of negative prior experiences in the educational system. To address
these challenges, Lowe proposed the PARS model (“Providing Academic and Relational
Support”) for distance education. She also reinforced Gibson’s (1996) recommendation of
including a student orientation with specific instruction for online students at the onset of their
programs (Maddix, 2012, p. 22-33).
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Experienced
As mentioned earlier, another one of Knowles’ principles of adult learning is that an adult
“has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning” (Merriam,
2006, p. 22). The effective adult educators leverage the decades of learning experiences in their
students and build upon them. This facilitates neural connections in the students’ minds with
existing information. It has long been known in pedagogy that the more connections one can
make to information, the more likely it will be retained and effectively used. This is why
pneumonic aids are so effective.
Knowles was not the first adult educator to recognize the importance of connecting
personal experience with adult education. Lindeman (1961, p. 6-7) posited, “The resource of
highest value in adult education is the learner’s experience[experience is] “the adult learner’s
living textbook . . . already there waiting to be appropriated” (as cited in Merriam, 2006, p. 27).
Building on Lindeman, Knowles wrote “’Adults come into an educational activity with both a
greater volume and a different quality of experience from youths.’ As adults live longer, they
accumulate both a greater volume and range of experiences. Knowles also observes that adults
tend to define themselves by their experiences” (Merriam, 2006, p. 27). Kolb followed up with
his own endorsement in his 1984 publication when he stated, “Learning is a continuous process
grounded in experience. Knowledge is continuously derived and tested out in the experiences of
the learner” (as cited by Merriam, 2006, p. 27).
While on the topic of experience, it is important to warn adult educators that not all
learners are as tech-savvy as expected. Many educators assume that all learners after the Baby
Boom generation are well versed in technology. This assumption often overlaps into other
related fields that rely on technology. Compounding this issue is that many of the learners
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themselves believe that they are tech-savvy because of their daily use of various forms of social
technology. However, as Reichart (2015) noted, DeNisco (2015) found,
[Quoting DeNisco (2015)] “Today’s students may be skilled at texting and social media,
but many are unable to perform online research and distinguish accurate information on
the web (p. 24)”… On a superficial level, these students appear well-versed in all things
digital. However, in the face of research papers, citation and documentation methods, and
the ever-present specter of plagiarism, the same students crumble. The result, especially
in an online educational environment, is attrition, followed by the institution’s inevitable
focus on retention. (145-146)
Educators should therefore implement the “experienced” principle carefully. They can
accomplish this by leveraging the students’ life experiences to connect it to new content for
better comprehension and retention. Adult educators should not assume that students are
experienced in anything in particular before gleaning this information first hand. This can be a
challenge with online education. One method that many schools are implementing, though,
(including Colorado Christian University), is the use of a “Getting to Know You” discussion at
the beginning of an online course. This allows the instructor and students to become acquainted
with each other. It also creates experience reference points to which the instructor can connect
material.
Motivated
Motivation plays a significant role in most of life’s efforts. This includes learning. An
adult needs to be motivated to exert time and energy to a task. There are many elements and
forms of motivation that contribute to effective online learning.
According to Knowles’ aforementioned principles of adult learning, an adult “is
motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors(as cited in Merriam, 2006, p. 22).
Knowles included this principle to differentiate andragogy from what is typical in pedagogy (that
children learn primarily through external motivation) rather than establish an absolute law.
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Adults are capable of being motivated by both internal and external factors when it comes to the
motivation required to learn. However, adult educators should rely on their adult learners’
intrinsic motivation more than extrinsic motivation.
Curtis Bonk, et al (2014) conducted a robust survey of 1429 of MIT’s OpenCourseWare
(OCW) subscribers. OCW represents one of the earliest successful, large scale Massive Open
Online Courses (MOOCs). The large number of subscribers allowed Bonk, et al to collect a
tremendous amount of data on the preferences of online adult learners. They summarized their
findings as follows:
Key motivational factors included curiosity, interest, and internal need for self-
improvement. Factors leading to success or personal change included freedom to learn,
resource abundance, choice, control, and fun. In terms of achievements, respondents were
learning both specific skills as well as more general skills that help them advance in their
careers. Science, math, and foreign language skills were the most desired by the survey
respondents. The key obstacles or challenges faced were time, lack of high quality open
resources, and membership or technology fees... Among the chief implications is that
learning something new to enhance one’s life or to help others is often more important
than course transcript credit or a certificate of completion. (p. 349)
The prevalence of intrinsic motivators supports Knowles’ principle. Educators can glean specific
motivators from these findings to develop, market, and implement more motivating and desirable
courses. However, the results are not conclusive for all adult learners. This was a niche group of
people enrolled in free MOOCs and their preferences and motivations could vary substantially
from those who are pursuing an expensive online degree.
In each of the past four years, The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research
have release a joint study titled Online College Students. In the spring of 2015 they surveyed
1,500 adults that were recently enrolled, currently enrolled or planning to enroll in the next 12
months in a fully online undergraduate, graduate degree program, certificate or licensure
program. The study includes a broad, nationwide sample spanning all levels of higher education.
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A large portion of the survey focuses on exposing the students’ preferences and motivations. The
key findings of the surveys are available in Appendix A. Here are a few highlights from pages 6-
8 of the study (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2015):
The biggest motivator for the students to pursue their degrees was to advance their
careers (75% of surveyed students selected this).
A higher percentage of students prefer electronic textbooks over paper copies (43% to
33%). This is significant because it is a great way to lower student education costs as
electronic books are sold at a fraction of the price of the paper copies.
50% of online students live within 50 miles of the school and 65% live within 100 miles.
Price is increasingly becoming the most significant reason to select one school over
another. 45% of online students selected the cheapest option that they could find in 2015
versus 30% in 2014!
Online education is becoming highly commoditized and competitive. Students are
demanding programs that are tailored to their preferences, which include lower prices,
shorter terms (5-8 weeks), shorter time to program completion, and generous credit
transfer policies. In other words, it is a buyer’s market and the students know it.
Other Noteworthy Characteristics
A review of the literature regarding online students revealed a few additional
characteristics of note that have shown correlations to student academic success. One such
characteristic is external support. Those students with stronger external support perform better
academically. As cited in Maddix (2012), Ormond Simpson’s (2003) research on student
retention identified “family and friends” as the most important source of external support. This
category ranked above academic tutors, other students, employers, and the school itself (p. 46).
Jason Baker wrote one of the articles in the Maddix (2012) book. It highlighted the six
personal characteristics he consistently found to be associated with academic success among
online students. Students possessing the following strengths are more likely to succeed:
1) Technological resources and literacy
2) Strong reading skills
3) Ability to communicate effectively via writing
4) Good time management
5) Willingness to seek help when in need
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6) A degree of independence and learner autonomy (p. 103).
One final characteristic of note actually represents an entire category, neurology (the
physical biology of the students’ brains). As technology progresses, scientists discover
increasingly sophisticated methods of assessing learning. The benefit is that these methods are
much more objective and physical than the latent construct-based, subjective, learning
assessments that social scientists have been depending on for decades. One interesting and
promising method of assessing learning through the study of neurology is by measuring
Bayesian Spiking Neurons (BSN). Using statistical probability modeling and brain scanning of
electrically spiking neurons, scientists are able to accurately estimate inference and learning.
Kuhlmann (2014) developed an efficient algorithm and method based on Fast Learning, which
can quickly assess the energy-efficient spike coding of BSNs. Empirical, experimental, and
physical studies such as these can not only reveal students who will be most successful in online
learning, but a better understanding will lead to more efficient methods of instruction. Studies
like these have the potential to unlock the mysteries of the human mind and learning. Perhaps the
next exponential, technological revolution will involve the maximization of the human
neurological potential.
Summary
This first section focused on the student element of the online education system. A
review of theory-based studies revealed a number of best practices that can be implemented on
broad scales. Integrating the most supported principles can significantly improve and accelerate
online education. These principles include the need for adult learners to be self-directed, the
benefit of connecting the learning to the students’ rich life experiences, and the reliance more on
their intrinsic motivation rather than attempting to motivate them extrinsically. Additional
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 14
success factors can help identify students who are prepared for success as well as to better
prepare those who are not yet ready. Finally, human neurology holds the key to exponential
advances in education and learning.
Gaps in the Literature
It is difficult to pinpoint every gap in the literature due to the overwhelming span of
topics involved in accelerated, online adult education. This literature review included about fifty
studies out of potentially hundreds or even thousands of relevant possibilities. It does seem
apparent, however, that there is a lack of empirical, experimental studies. The strongest evidence
will likely come out of true experimental designs, which allow for variable manipulation across
groups and causality determination. The potential with neurology is a promising example of
where education and learning might advance in the near future. Additional, large scale learning
experiments will help, but someone has to cover the significant expenses involved. Researchers
can attain small gains in knowledge through repeated use of the most proven survey instruments
and assessments. The broader the researchers apply these instruments (in terms of sample,
setting, learning content, etc.) the more powerful and useful the data.
Curriculum Development
The second of five major components of online higher education pertains to the
development of the curriculum. The use of these terms here is meant to represent the high-level
program development more than the course by course details. This section will first present some
support for using online higher education at all. It will then delve into a variety of key factors
pertaining to quality online curriculum development.
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Defending the Legitimacy of Online Education
Over the course of the past few decades, studies have consistently demonstrated no
substantial benefits of in-seat education over online education. In 1999, Russell (as cited in
Maddix) reported that the debate over the legitimacy of online education was put to rest by 355
studies showing that there was no significant difference between traditional campus-based
education and distance education” (2012, p. 42)! That is more than abundant validation for
online learning! The big criticisms against online instruction were increased transactional
distance between students and instructors and decreased social presence. However, Maddix
pointed out that “because mentored online seminar courses increase both structure and dialogue,
transactional distance is significantly decreased and social presence is significantly increased”
(2012, p. 45). In many cases, the increased structure and additional time to respond in
discussions actually increase the quality of the discussions and the higher level thinking of the
students.
In 2015, McPherson and Bacow published a combined literature review and expert
opinion article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Both authors have decades of academic
executive leadership experience, with considerable amounts of time as university presidents.
They cite studies, surveys, and personal experience throughout the article. Among their findings
are the following:
The percent of students taking at least one online course rose from 10% in 2002 to 33%
in 2012, with the two most prominent drivers of popularity among students were cost and
convenience. A major factor driving the schools (other than student demand) was that the
internet affords a relatively easy way to scale education (reaching more students with less
expense) (p. 140).
There are no statistically significant advantages of traditional instruction over online
instruction in terms of meeting the educational objectives, despite an abundance of
studies seeking this, including Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones 2009; as well as
Bell & Federman 2013 (p. 145).
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After centuries of experience, traditional educational methods are not outperforming the
new field of online education. This means that the growth in effectiveness will most
likely occur with online education as the experience mounts (p. 146).
The increasingly popular flipped classroom method is more conducive to online
programs. This suggests one possible area of increased educational effectiveness online
(p. 138).
Moore & Kearsley’s 2011 textbook cites several more studies that are relevant. In 2009,
Reuter published a study using multiple semesters of a science course with a lab. There were no
differences in learning objective attainment or academic performance between the in-seat cohorts
and the online cohorts. This directly refutes the criticism that online students are at a
disadvantage when it comes to hands on activities, as are common in labs. In 2007, Hughes, et al
published the results of their study assessing performance and student perceptions in algebra
classes. There were no differences in either performance or student perceptions between the in-
seat students and online students. Cragg, Dunning, & Ellis (2008) demonstrated that even the
quality of interaction between students and faculty was just as high in online courses. Rabe-
Hemp, Woolen, & Humiston (2009) found that online students actually outperformed in-seat
students in many ways because they spent more time preparing for the course, were more
reflective in their learning practices, and were more involved in the class discussions! Lobel,
Neubauer, & Sweberg (2005) similarly found that online students devoted more time to
social/academic interaction than their in-seat counterparts did. Moore & Kearsley go on to cite
similar results in several more studies, including Williams (2006), Olson & Wisher (2002), and
Neumann & Shachar (2003). They even referenced a website devoted to this:
www.nosignificantdifference.org.
The decades’ worth of academic and professional studies clearly legitimate online
education as on par or even superior to traditional education. Now that we have established its
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 17
place in higher education curriculum, let us explore some of the best practices that research has
revealed.
Laying the Foundation
All programs, initiatives, curricula, and organizations require firm foundations. The
required foundation for any curriculum is the worldview that it is based upon. It seems obvious
that an educational program operating on and through truth is superior to one based on fallacies,
lies, misunderstandings, illogical assumptions, debunked theories, etc. Unfortunately, the public
school system and majority of liberal arts higher education programs base instruction on the
latter. There are a number of reasons for this that are outside the scope of this paper. The point is
that absolute truth must drive all aspects of the curriculum, regardless of whether or not it shares
aspects of metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, morality, ethics, law, biology, physics,
astronomy, geology, etc. with the Bible. There are components of all of these subjects in the
Bible. It is futile to try to separate all of them from education in the effort to “separate church
and state.” The Bible cannot be relegated to a small portion of one day a week labeled “church”.
It is the human textbook on reality and the true worldview.
The Bible is filled with passages that support the idea of laying a firm foundation in Truth
and on Christ. Here are a select few from the English Standard Version to support the argument:
Genesis 1 – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…
Proverbs 1:7 - The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise
wisdom and instruction.
Psalm 127:1a - Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
James 1:5 -If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all
without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
Matthew 7:24 - Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like
a wise man who built his house on the rock.
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Matthew 28:19-20 - Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
I John 4:1 - Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they
are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Phil. 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is
right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableif anything is
excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Holt, (2010) wrote a dissertation titled “An analysis of contemporary adult learning
theories and the implications for teaching in the local church for spiritual maturity.” It included a
thorough literature review focused on Christian adult education. Many of his findings are
relevant to this paper. First, Bloom’s learning domains suggest that different content requires
different strategies. Experiential learning is ideal for the behavioral domain. Transformational
learning is suited for the affective domain. Several different strategies are effective with the
cognitive domain, including Self-directed learning (SDL), Cognitive Learning Theory (King and
Witt), and Andragogy (Knowles). However, Holt does point out that not all learners are prepared
for Experiential learning or SDL, citing the findings of DiBiaso (2006) and
Dynan, Cate, &
Rhee (2008) which both argued that student readiness/maturity level significantly
contributes to the effectiveness.
Second, Holt cites Glennon’s (2004) study observations
regarding six important principles of learning:
All education is value-laden and political…
Learning begins with students’ prior learning and experience.
Active learning is better than passive learning.
The quality of the experience is critical [to the effectiveness of leveraging it in
education].
The learner should be actively involved in shaping the purpose and direction of
the learning place.
A praxis (action-reflection) model provides a more qualitative experience. (Holt,
2010, p. 130-131)
D. M. Phillips contributed an article to the Maddix 2012 publication regarding the
process of implementing an online program. He based his recommendations on quality research
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 19
and personal experience in online higher education leadership. The process he recommended is
located in Appendix B. Bauer & Jones also contributed a similar article in the same publication.
Their recommendations pertain to how to develop the online program after approval and
structuring. Their recommended process outline, based on research and experience, is located in
Appendix C. G.W. Bourgond contributed another article to the Maddix 2012 publication
highlighting the standards established by one successful, online, Christian, higher education
program. That list of standards comprises Appendix D. Together; these three sets of
recommendations can form the skeleton of a plan that covers the entire process from initial
planning to successful implementation and maintenance.
P. Yoho submitted a dissertation in 2011 titled “Exploring the Alignment of Distance
Education with Christian Higher Education.” This was similar to the comprehensive dissertation
of Holt that we discussed earlier in that it provided a great literature review of the same material
required for this paper. Yoho completed a qualitative case study of several online, Christian,
degree programs. Some of his findings are appropriate for this foundational section of curriculum
development because they highlight the importance of the university’s leadership in the
successful implementation of online programs. A summary of his relevant findings are as
follows, with original researcher and publication year in parentheses:
The danger associated with distance learning is the inclination for institutions to
emphasize convenience over quality (Rovai, 2004).
Poor planning and lack of vision by administration will create problems in areas such
as a lack of understanding by the faculty, the oversight of the benefits of distance
learning, the underestimate of resources needed to implement the program (Harris,
2007).
Institutional leaders are the determinant factor, given their role in decision-making, in
facilitating or impeding the implementation of distance education programs. The
success rests on the attitude of the administration and the institutional structures that
are set in place for the execution of the distance education policies (Mapuva, 2009).
(Yoho, 2011, p. 51)
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 20
Yoho additionally stated that based on the results of the case studies, it is apparent that
online, Christian, higher education programs can achieve the organizational mission. In
agreement with several other researchers, he also conveyed the importance of instructional
designers. One of the studied schools mentioned this as the most important factor in its success
(Yoho, 2011).
Learning Methods
A major component of curriculum development is the selection of instructional methods.
The leadership needs to provide standards and guidelines regarding how to best convey the
content so that students can retain and apply it. This section will provide some support for a few
research-backed methods.
Ekmekci (2013) provided a literature review of peer-reviewed studies on case-based and
problem-based learning (PBL) methods. Citing several studies (Kurfiss, 1988; McBurney, 1995;
Garrison, et al, 2000; Ball & Pelco, 2006; Kamin, Deterding, Younger, & Wade, 2006)
emphatically declared that these two related methods are highly effective and practical at
enhancing higher-level comprehension and application of content. As cited by Merriam (2006),
Dunlap & Grabinger (2003) echoed support for PBL as well. Ekmekci also noted several studies
(Ledman, 2003; Topping, 1998; Ball & Pelco, 2006; Bedi 2008; Mandernach, Dailey-Hebert, &
Donnelli-Sallee, 2007) supporting the finding that peer reviews among the students enhances
learning (Ekmekci, 2013).
The concepts discussed in the first section of this paper on student characteristics also
apply to curriculum and course development. Namely, it is important to build an environment in
which the adult learners can be self-directed, can apply the educational content to their life
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 21
experiences, and can rely on their own intrinsic motivation (Merriam, 2006; Maddix, 2012;
Grabe, 2014; Reichart, 2015; etc.).
The section of this paper on course development will include additional findings and best
practices on learning theories, methods, practices, and more.
Importance of Instructional Designers
Because the online environment is so different from the in-seat classroom, Instructional
Designers are necessary. Traditional instructors that have been educated in the classroom and
have always taught in the classroom are usually unequipped to develop quality online programs.
They tend to try to force the same exact class, consisting mostly of a lecturer delivering content,
into a learning management system. Instructional Designers know how to develop online
instruction in ways that are most effective with adult, online learners. In previous sections, Bauer
& Jones, Bourgond, and Yoho all mentioned the importance of Instructional Designers.
Additionally, Bernard (2004) stated, “It is the characteristics of instructional design, such as the
instructional strategies used, the feedback provided, and the degree of learner engagement, that
create the conditions within which purposive learning will occur” (p. 411). Bernard’s assertion
stemmed from his team’s comprehensive meta-analysis of the empirical literature on distance
education. To data, there are no studies demonstrating anything other than support for the use of
Instructional Designers in online curriculum development.
Asynchronous Curriculum
Early in the curriculum development process, the leadership team needs to determine
which formats of online learning they will incorporate. Asynchronous classes do not require
students to be in a certain place at a certain time. The instructor provides the content,
assignments, and due dates. The students direct themselves to digest the content and complete
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 22
the assignments. The interaction is limited to asynchronous discussions and emails. Synchronous
classes occur in real time through online course technology. The instructor and students interact
as the instructor presents the material. Synchronous classes also have asynchronous components
that require the students to be self-directed. The obvious benefits of asynchronous courses
include flexibility with timing and more thought provoking discussions. The obvious benefit of
synchronous class sessions is the added social presence of the students and instructor.
Burns (2014) evaluated the effectiveness of asynchronous methods by comparing student
performance across 18 sections of an online class. The findings demonstrated that the
asynchronous discussions pushed students to think through the questions more thoroughly and
write out well-structured, developed, and integrated essay responses. The discussion results
exceeded those of the face-to-face cohorts. Burns concluded that, “asynchronous methods
continue to be a viable option if they are empowered with clear, distinct learning outcomes and
incorporate asynchronous reconfigurations of support services” (p. 116). Burns does add the
caveat that online student support is vital to online student success.
However, as Giesbers (2014) demonstrated, there are significant benefits of including
some elements of synchronicity in the curriculum. The study of 110 online students addressed
the relationship between students’ use of synchronous and asynchronous communication over
time, taking into account student motivation, and employing a dynamic inter-temporal
perspective. What he found was that the use of either synchronous or asynchronous
communication significantly affected and increased the use of the other. Those students who
engaged in a synchronous video conference “contributed more to the asynchronous discussions
both in quality and quantity” (p. 44). Giesbers recommended offering students a choice between
the two communication methods each week.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 23
Social Presence
The last component of curriculum development to cover is Social Presence. According to
Roblyer (2015), “Social presence is the perception of “connectedness” or actually being with
someone in a virtual environment” (p. 427). Several researchers have demonstrated correlations
between social presence and successful learning (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 1999; Garrison
& Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Hill, Song, & West, 2009; Kinsel, Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2005;
Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 1999; Swan & Shih, 2005; Sung & Mayer, 2012).
Haythornthwaite, Kazmer, Robins & Shoemaker, (2000) posited that one of the most effective
ways to do this is beginning the course with brief time of face-to-face interaction (p. 11).
Heinemann (2007) discovered in his literature review that “researchers present learner-learner
interaction as a very significant factor affecting online learning outcomes, perhaps even the most
significant factor” (p. 197).
Niess & Gillow-Wiles (2013) conducted a qualitative, design-based research study of
asynchronous communication in a social metacognitive constructivist instructional framework.
They found a clear, synergistic effect of several factors on the quality of asynchronous
discussions. They summarized their key findings as follows:
The instructional strategies (assessed engagement, collaborative activities, peer-review as
an assignment component, intentional small and large group design, and the
incorporation of new and emerging technologies [i.e. Skype, Google Docs] to support
free-flowing discussions) were all effective individually in helping to stimulate
interaction leading to a higher level of learning and toward the enhancement of the
participants’ knowledge development —a deep and meaningful approach to learning
through the program expectations. Alone, none of these strategies or structures had the
same impact as implementing them together as a complete trajectory where the strategies
were utilized from beginning to the end of each course. The findings of this research
reinforced the importance of instructor actions in creating online educational experiences
where the participants interacted within a community to share knowledge and reflect on
the content. (p. 13)
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 24
J. B. Arbaugh (a leading expert on social presence in online higher education) surveyed
614 MBA students from 48 different classes at a Midwestern university. The pertinent findings
in the 2014 publication are as follows: “although instructor behaviors (operationalized as
teaching presence) was the strongest predictor of any of our three outcome variables (perceived
learning), only student behaviors (operationalized as social presence) significantly predicted all
three (course grades, perceived learning and delivery medium satisfaction)” (Arbaugh, 2014, p.
349). Social presence was not just correlated with one of multiple performance variables… it
predicted all three! Clearly, the literature shows strong support for developing a curriculum that
encourages social presence.
Summary
This section on curriculum development covered a considerable amount of information.
First, it provided strong support for the efficacy of online higher education. Next, it demonstrated
the importance, processes, and best practices of establishing an online program. It then
introduced a few research-backed instructional methods, along with support for using
Instructional Designers. Next, it provided research findings on asynchronous and synchronous
communication, which led into a summary of key findings supporting the enhancement of social
presence.
Gaps in the Literature
Researches have completed a small set of qualitative case studies that evaluate online
programs over time. More research needs to be conducted on the varying programs. The goal
should be to distinguish the elements that contribute the most to the most successful programs.
Ideally, the studies are planned ahead of time and controlled and monitored while the program
continues in the present, rather than post hoc meta-analyses of old data. The more control that the
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 25
researchers have, the more experimental the studies are in design, the better the predictive value
of the studied variables.
Course Development
The third major component of online higher education (course development) is the
extension of the second one (curriculum development). Curriculum development occurs at a
higher, more global level. Course development refers to the actual design of each online class in
terms of layout, content coverage, assignments, learning objectives/outcomes, etc. This paper
will provide research supported best practices on several aspects of course development. This
includes the instructional design process, adult learning theory, online learning communities,
online discussion forums, and assessment.
Instructional Design Process
As was mentioned in the section on curriculum development, schools should use
instructional designers when developing courses. These designers follow a relatively
standardized, cyclical, instructional design process. The industry standard process is referred to
as ADDIE, which is an acronym for Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. In the
Bauer & Jones article of the Maddix (2012) publication, they expand on this framework to
produce a recommended process of online instructional design (see Appendix E).
Moore & Kearsley (2011) also include a literature review of instructional design studies.
They report that according to Garrison & Cleveland-Innes (2005), instructional design had a
significant impact on online social interaction (which determines social presence). Moore &
Kearsley next summarize the findings of Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot (2010) who found that
instructional designers can overcome cultural differences within the online student population
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 26
through “awareness, modified design processes, culturally sensitive communication, and
accommodations of critical cultural differences” (p. 227). Their textbook also mentions some
specific, effective instructional design processes for online course development from Puzziferro
& Shelton (2008) and Arnold (2005). Appendix E contains a list of best practices they identified
for the instructional design of online courses.
Adult Learning Theories
This paper discussed learning theories at a high level in the curriculum design section of
this paper. It is important to discuss them specifically here in order to extract some best practices.
This section will introduce each theory and its author(s) one at a time, highlighting the key
findings as they relate to applicable best practices.
Jarvis’ Learning Process
Merriam (2006) explains Jarvis’s (1987, 2001) model, which provided support for two
particularly effective forms of learning. Experimental learning is the result of the learner
applying what he has learned by “experimenting” on his environment. Reflective practice is the
other effective form and refers to the learner thinking about one’s practice as it is happening (a
form of metacognition).
Contextualized, Situated & Ecological Learning
Stephen Lowe elaborated on a newer, amalgamated theory of adult learning in his article
in the Maddix (2012) publication. He stated the following:
This contextualized, situated, and ecological understanding of adult learning
recognizes that learning is not just an individually transformative experience
(Mezirow, 1991) but also a socially interactive experience that “instigates”
(Bronfenbrenner, 2005) further development and transformation-not just individual
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 27
development and transformation but “reciprocal development” of all the persons
involved in the learning experience…
Reciprocal interaction leads to reciprocal development. The developmental system
that is created by these relationships becomes a “vehicle”… that stimulates and
sustains development processes… as long as they remain interconnected…in a
bond…
Situated contexts where learners meet are “communities of practice” (Wenger, 1999)
which engender a shared approach to meaning making, understanding, apprehension,
and cognitive functioning. (p. 27)
Constructivism
Baviskar, Hartle, and Whitney (2009) presented the following findings regarding the
Constructivist theory of learning. The first three describe the fundamentals of the theory and the
fourth is the best practice application:
New knowledge is constructed as it relates to the prior knowledge.
Cognitive dissonance between prior knowledge and new knowledge stimulates
learning.
Application of new knowledge, accompanied by feedback, enables the learner to
check its validity and to build connections with an ever-increasing variety of
contexts.
For maximum impact the learner should be able to reflect upon and express what
he or she has learned.
Visual Learning Theory
Akkerman, as published in Maddix (2012) advocated the following findings derived from
studies of the Visual learning theory:
The Dominican Fra Michele da Carcano observed, “Images were introduced because
many people cannot retain in their memories what they hear, but they do remember if
they see images. In recent decades, research by many educational and cognitive
psychologists has supported this ancient observation, which has now grown to be
called visual learning theory. (p. 92)
Advocates assert that enhanced learning can occur when instructors convey course
information both verbally and visually, noting that “visual literacy accelerates
learning because the richness of the whole picture can be taken in at a glance” (Cross,
2011, n.p.). (p. 92-93)
Online courses built around a clean graphic design convey organization, invite
interest, and minimize student fatigue. Font selection and adequate negative space are
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 28
two fundamental ways to strengthen the visual impact for an online course. Use Arial
Font. (p. 96)
Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (VAK) Learning
Norris (2003) summarized some of the important findings derived from VAK principles
of learning. According to the data, 60% of people are primarily visual learners, 25% kinesthetic,
and 15% auditory. Citing Dale’s Learning Cone, Norris argues that after 24 hours we remember
10% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% when we hear and see, 70% when we have a
hands-on workshop exercise, and 90% by doing the real thing and then talking about it. The
application is obviously to increase the modalities involved with a preference towards hands on
and real world application and reflection.
Connectivism
Clara (2014) demonstrated through a theoretical literature review (relying heavily on
Downes, 2006 and 2012; Kop & Hill, 2008; and Lange, 2012) that “connectivism as a learning
theory has significant theoretical problems and should be profoundly revised if it is to explain
and foster learning” (p. 197). Connectivism, as promoted by Siemens in his 2005 publication,
consists of four connected ideas.
1. Learning consists of connecting nodes.
2. Learning happens outside humans’ brains as well as inside them.
3. Knowledge is not propositional, but rather a pattern of connections.
4. Knowledge/learning is emergent or unintentional. (p. 199)
Online Learning Communities
An important component of online higher education is the creation and maintenance of
thriving online learning communities. Yuan (2014) describes the online learning community (or
eLearning community, virtual learning community) as one in which the members work with each
other “via technology to construct knowledge and attain common goals... The critical element of
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 29
a learning community is a sense of community, which is the feeling that group members matter
and that one’s needs are satisfied through the collective effort of the group” (pp. 221-222).
Vesely (2007) identified five defining characteristics of such communities:
1) “A sense of shared purpose,
2) The establishment of boundaries defining who is a member and who is not,
3) The establishment and enforcement of rules/policies regarding community
behavior,
4) Interaction among members (both faculty and students), and
5) A level of trust, respect and support among community members.” (Maddix,
2012, p. 32)
There seems to be widespread agreement and research supporting the importance of these
communities. The following is a sample of these researchers with summaries of their findings.
Palloff & Pratt (1999) - “Collaborative learning has shown to be very important in the
development of learning communities and in achievement of the desired outcomes for
a course… The learning community is the vehicle through which learning occurs
online” (as cited in Maddix, 2012, pp. 29-30).
Carr (2000) Quality online learning communities reduce the feeling of isolation and
lead to fewer dropouts.
Song, Singleton, Hill, & Myung (2004) – A survey of 76 graduate students revealed
that 71% of dissatisfied online students cited lack of online community as a
challenge. Course design, student motivation, time management, and comfort level
with the technology positively impact the success of the perceived online community.
Palloff & Pratt (2007) – Increased faculty and student interaction online leads to more
effective learning.
Quinn (2010) – A survey (only 30 respondents from a single school) revealed that the
strongest factor in developing an online learning community is student/instructor
interaction, but student/student interaction also has a positive impact.
Berger (2013) – Citing experience and the research of Rovai (2002) and Shore (2007)
states that designers can improve learning and formation by intentionally building
student to student and faculty to student interaction into the online course. Berger also
included some additional best practices for enhancing online learning communities:
Keep class size between 10-15 students; develop clear guidelines for online
discussion; use clearly written rubrics that specify interaction as a component of the
grade; develop supportive learning environments; instruct faculty to be present daily
in the online course, provide timely feedback, and be intentional about building
relationships; and create learning activities that foster online interaction and dialogue.
Yuan (2014) extrapolated the following guidelines from his literature review and
meta-analysis:
o “Guideline 1 (when): The effort to build a learning community should be made
from the beginning of a course and continued throughout the term” (p. 224).
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 30
o “Guideline 2 (who): Both students and instructors should be involved in building
the learning community” (p. 225).
o “Guideline 3 (where): Use both synchronous and asynchronous technologies to
create a shared space in which students and instructor interact” (p. 225).
o “Guideline 4.1 (how): Employ various strategies to stimulate discussions” (p.
226).
Costley (2013) – Found that the effective use of asynchronous internet discussion
forums builds online learning communities, and developed an 8-step process for
researchers to follow when evaluating those discussions.
Across the board, there is agreement and support for the importance of establishing the
online learning communities. One should seek to implement as many of these research based
best practices as possible to strengthen such communities.
Online Discussion Forums
As Costley (2013) discovered, the online discussion forums are crucial to online
education, particularly in strictly asynchronous classes. Due to the importance of these forums,
many researchers have produced studies with valuable findings. The highlights of these are as
follows:
Topcu (2007) – Established the effectiveness of the intentional repetition technique in
discussion forums.
Darabi (2011) – Determined through an experimental study that using a scaffolded
discussion strategy advances a discussion through the phases of cognitive presence towards
higher-level learning.
Maddix (2012) – Citing another study and his own findings, stated that,
The facilitation of online discussion extends collaborative knowledge construction and
information distribution as well as supporting cognitive and metacognitive engagement of
reasoning and argumentation (Xie, Vance, & Ling, 2011). The successes of online
discussions have been connected to the attitude of students particularly in fostering a
sense of community and relationships… Research indicates that the most effective
asynchronous courses include some synchronous online discussions. (p. 108)
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 31
Kemp (as cited in Maddix, 2012) – Provides the following list of best practices for
promoting effective online discussions:
Give additional guidance regarding the threaded discussion forum
Give specific expectations for the length of responses
Clarify netiquette guidelines
Be committed as an institution to being online 24/7
Provide support for faculty facilitators
Establish cohorts
Add variety to discussions by having students post in different ways (humor, sarcasm,
debate, etc.)
Include collaborative activities
Build in components for student to tie material to their work, family, social life. (p. 48-
51)
Gao (2013) – Identified shortcomings in online discussions and proposed a new
Productive Online Discussion Model to remedy them.
Hung (2014) – Developed the Asynchronous Discussion Communication Satisfaction
Model with which researchers and educators can evaluate discussions.
Yang, Newby, & Bill (2005) (as cited by Moore & Kearsley, 2011) – The use of Socratic
questioning in asynchronous online discussions helped students demonstrate and maintain
higher-level thinking.
Zhou (2015) – Conducted a comprehensive literature review of empirical studies on
online discussion forums spanning fourteen years. Appendix H contains a summary of his
findings.
Summary
This section presented the findings of research pertinent to the development of online
higher education courses. It started with best practices concerning the instructional design
process, many of which are conveniently outlined in the appendices. Next, this section
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 32
summarized several adult learning theories along with their related, applicable best practices.
This section then highlighted findings in support of the development of online learning
communities. Finally, the section ended with comprehensive findings and lists of best practices
concerning effective online discussions.
Gaps in the Literature
The literature on course development is plentiful because it spans several domains of
research. As a result, there is broad coverage of the topics. As with most other elements of social
sciences, the data repository is in need of conclusive, true experimental results. Ideally,
additional studies will reveal new and improved methods for establishing social presence and
efficiently driving higher-level learning.
Instructors
Thus far, this paper presented research findings concerning the students, the
administration, and the course developers. The last group of people that play a critical role in
online higher education consists of the faculty, specifically, the online instructors.
Instructor Role in Online Education
It is important to understand that the role of an online instructor significantly varies from
that of a traditional, in-seat instructor. The industry jargon saying is that there is a switch from
“sage on the sage to guide on the side.” Instead of lecturing and disseminating as much content
as possible during a class period, the online instructor plays more of a facilitator role. It is a
move from classroom master to online mentor. Because the skillset is so different for effective
online instruction, the first issue to discuss is online faculty development.
Online Faculty Development
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 33
Attempting to simply assign online classes to your traditional faculty will result in
frustration for both students and faculty. The in-seat, pedagogical paradigm does not work in
online settings, particularly asynchronous ones. As cited by Maddix (2012), Shelton & Saltsman
(2005) state,
Because online education is a new paradigm, many faculty are unprepared for the
fundamental differences in the roles required for online teaching. The lack of preparation
necessitates a higher level of involvement by administrators to ensure success… The
institution has to provide a clear path of training and support to ensure the faculty they
are not alone. (pp. 68-69)
Ideally, either experienced, online instructors operate the online sections, or the
traditional faculty receive training and then attempt an online section with an experienced
mentor. The faculty training needs to include online learning best practices and technology
tutorials (particularly with the learning management system they will use). If you use
experienced online instructors who are not physically located in the area, it is important to
develop community among them (Lapointe, 2015). Online affiliate faculty often complain about
isolation and a lack of community or sense of belonging to the university. Easy solutions are
regular video conferences through software such as Zoom, occasional retreats, or periodic
seminars on campus.
As cited in Moore & Kearsley (2011), Steve Yates (2009) proposes eight types of faculty
development for administrators to choose from:
Consultant or help desk to answer online faculty questions
Initial training
Ongoing training with a variety of modules
Mandatory training courses before the instructor is allowed to teach online
Conferences
Optional training courses for professional development
Special guest speakers
Website devoted to training and facilitation. (p. 69).
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 34
Teacher Presence
One of the most important instructional tactics the online instructor needs to effectively
accomplish is to establish teacher presence. This concept has been defined as “the design,
facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing
personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (Anderson, Rourke,
Garrison, & Archer, 2001, p. 5), developed within the broader context of the community of
inquiry framework (Ekmekci, 2013). Maddix contributed an article to his own 2012 book that
focused on effective instructional strategies in an online course. He emphasized several facets of
teacher presence. Here were some of his findings:
Daily teacher presence predicts student satisfaction and learning.
Timely feedback is imperative in accelerated online courses and requires increased
presence.
The instructor must use that presence intentionally as a means for building relationships
with the students.
Studies (i.e. Salmon, 2000) demonstrate that not only the quantity of teacher presence
leads to increased learning, but also quality.
Several additional studies in this report also emphasize the role of teacher presence.
Berger (2013) found that high teacher presence predicted higher student persistence and
satisfaction. Specifically, addressing the students by name, using humor, emotional displays, and
complimenting students had statistically significant effects on student satisfaction. Previous
studies (including Gallien, and Oomen-Early, 2008) supported the correlation between student
satisfaction and commitment/persistence. Ekmekci’s (2013) study almost exclusively focused on
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 35
the importance of teacher presence and tips on establishing it. His findings included the
following:
Citing Sheridan & Kelly (2010, p. 776), argued that ultimate success in an
asynchronous online environment hinges on creating a teaching presence that is
“positive and friendly, knowledgeable, empathetic, and consistent” (p. 34).
Instructors need to be visible to, engaged with, and caring for the students throughout
the course of the learning journey, which they share, paying particular attention to
communication.
Citing Palloff & Pratt (2003, p. 118), Ekmekci stated that students’ perceptions of
teaching presence depend on “posting regularly to the discussion board, responding in
a timely manner to e-mail and assignments, and generally modeling good online
communication and interactions.” (p. 34).
Referencing the work of Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer (2001, p. 5) Ekmekci
added that these perceptions are greatly influenced by “the design, facilitation, and
direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of personally
meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (p. 34).
Establishing this quality level of teacher presence requires a systematic approach with
adequate formative and summative feedback loops, and program evaluation
(Ekmekci, 36).
In leveraging the benefits of Self-Directed Learning, it is important to collaborate
with the students (rather than direct them) to co-create the educational experience in a
personally engaging manner.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 36
Clinefelter’s 2015 survey results also echoed the importance of instructor communication
with students. Twenty one percent of dissatisfied online students complained about the lack of
teacher presence and open channels of communication (p. 14).
One of the most successful methods to establish high quality teacher presence, as well as
to enhance social presence among students, is the effective use of the online discussion forum.
See Appendix I for C. D. Osborne’s best practices for establishing teacher presence in these
forums. Remember also the findings of VAK theory and the importance of using multiple
feedback and instructional modalities. Borup (2014) established that adding audio feedback
increases teacher presence and learning.
Another strategy that research demonstrated to positively affect discussion quality is the
use of intentional repetition (Topcu, 2007). Simply repeat the main points of the discussion
prompt and responses throughout the threads. This redirects the students to the main points and
minimizes the negative effects of minimal mental engagement in online discussion.
Summary
The role of the online instructor is substantially different than that of an in-seat instructor
in technique and required skillset. This section has emphasized that schools need to either use
experienced online instructors or provide sufficient training for traditional faculty who online
class assignments. The most important component is to intentionally establish and maintain
teacher presence. Convince the students that there is someone guiding them who genuinely cares
about their learning. Some effective methods of accomplishing this is using video when
introducing yourself and providing regular, timely participation.
Gaps in the Literature
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 37
There appears to be a gap in the related literature on the most efficient and effective ways
to prepare traditional faculty to teach online. There are a lot of great suggestions, but no
empirical studies. Researchers need to produce valid data on a variety of technologies and
techniques to improve not only teacher presence, but learning and program success as well.
Technology
The final component of online higher education that this paper will discuss concerns the
technology used to conduct it. Most learning management systems today are available on
computers as well as mobile devices. In some cases, the classes can be streamed onto televisions.
The learning management system is the application your organization builds the courses into and
where the students access those courses. Some of the common ones are Blackboard, Moodle, and
custom built ones housed on university servers. This section will briefly discuss some of the
relevant findings that can guide an organization towards the most effective technological tools.
Ease of Use and Cost
The first two factors that most organizations need to consider are the ease of use (for
developers, instructors, and students) and cost. If the students cannot intuitively navigate the
system, they will resist using it. It is feasible and recommended to include tutorials, but a system
that requires hours of tutorial learning is not optimal. Arbaugh (2014) determined through
empirical testing that perceived ease of use predicts perceived learning among students. In other
words, if the students think that the system is user friendly they are more confident and actually
rate their perceived performance higher. Lee (2014) advised that instructors should first build the
students’ learning processes through face-to-face instruction prior to putting them in online
courses. This seems to especially be the case with non-traditional, adult learners who are
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 38
returning to school after a hiatus. Clinefelter’s 2015 survey revealed that cost is a major factor
for students. Many students choose online programs because they are less expensive.
Specifically, 45% of students simply selected the cheapest program that they could find and
“tuition and fees” was the most cited reason for selecting a program (p. 7, 15). This is a
competitive advantage that you must retain in order to swell your online student population. This
requires selecting technology that does not considerably inflate the cost of the program. The
ideal is a system that balances ease of use, cost, and instructional capability.
Adaptive Learning Programs
A concept that seems to be building practicality through innovative design is the use of
adaptive learning programs. Adaptive learning programs adapt to the learner’s strengths and
weaknesses to develop a customized curriculum for each one. For years, this was mostly just an
impractical and overly complex ideal. However, over a decade of innovative software
engineering has led to some functional programs. In 2011, Karakostas determined through
empirical testing that learning improvements are possible with fixed collaborative scripts
(simplified adaptive learning) as well as dynamic adaptive support systems. In 2014, Apexlearn
patented an adaptive vocabulary review tool.
The invention provides a learning support method, a learning support apparatus and a
non-transitory computer-readable medium encoded with computer executable
instructions for performing the learning support method to provide reviews of learned
items based on a schedule determined according to a learner's learning status so as to
improve the learner's learning efficiency. (Apexlearn, 2014, p. 1)
Also in 2014, Shaw proposed a feasible model of an adaptive learning program that uses
guided learning pathways. However, it is still theoretical and has not been developed yet.
McPherson (2015) found that adaptive systems used in assessment, including the Graduate
Record Examination (GRE) and the Common-Core state level examinations for primary and
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 39
secondary school. McPherson did also comment, though, that the cost of comprehensive adaptive
learning programs currently outweighs the benefits.
Various Technologies to Assist Online Education
Numerous researchers have published research findings concerning the effectiveness of
various technologies in online education. The following is a brief summary:
Naismith (2010) determined the effectiveness of wikis in collaborative online
courses.
Moore (2011) demonstrated that blogs can also enhance online learning.
Gu (2011) conducted extensive testing on mobile devices as vehicles for online
instruction and concluded the value of small “chunks” of “micro content” that
students can quickly absorb on the run (p. 206).
Borup (2013) published support for asynchronous video communication as a tool for
building teacher presence, ultimately leading to increased learning and satisfaction.
Ciampa (2014) determined that students are more motivated to learn with mobile
devices through challenge, curiosity, control, recognition, competition, and
cooperation.
Giesbers (2014) commented on the growing potential of artificial intelligence in
computer-aided learning, citing one example called “ARGUNAUT” that has already
shown positive results (p. 46).
Heemskerk (2014) demonstrated that students’ motivation for studying mathematics
was positively related to the combination of lessons made for the interactive
whiteboard and availability of these lessons on the virtual learning environment.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 40
Karvounidis (2014) found positive results in learning using a variety of Web 2.0
technologies, such as blogs and wikis.
Novak (2014) reinforced VAK claims by showing the positive effect of computer
simulations on learning.
Pale (2014) found no significant benefits of using rich lecture captures.
Reichart (2015) demonstrated the importance of supporting online learners with
information literacy tools such as LibGuides and information literacy.
Cunningham’s (2015) research showed no significant effects with the use of avatars.
Clark, et al (2015) Used a randomized experimental design and self-report outcome
measures to show improvements of both social and teaching presence with video-
enabled instruction. Additionally, the use of video-enabled discussion, both
synchronous and asynchronous, had positive effects on social presence as well as
other related measure of sociability and social space.
Summary
There is now a body of evidence supporting the use of certain learning technologies while
showing the ineffectiveness of other technologies. As the evidence grows, schools can use the
existing findings to efficiently and effectively select and implement the optimal technologies.
Gaps in the Literature
The obvious gap in the literature concerns technology that has not been released or even
developed yet. Every year, innovative educators, computer programmers, and inventors release
newer and more advanced applications and equipment. A decade ago, mobile learning on
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 41
smartphones was nonexistent and now is being widely used. Time will only tell what
advancements the next decade will bring.
Discussion
Recommendations for Future Research
The initial intent of this paper was to scour all relevant findings in order to determine the
most highly supported best practices. However, the volume of research that exists concerning
each of the components of online higher education exceeded the capacity of a single literature
review. The next step is to focus on one specific, promising aspect of a single one of the five
components discussed in this paper. Then truly evaluate all relevant publications on the topic and
identify if additional research is warranted. Ideally, the more focused literature review will reveal
the need for empirical testing on a limited budget. The author of this paper can use this research
as his dissertation.
Conclusion
This paper has assimilated and summarized the results of dozens of studies pertaining to
online higher education. The author extrapolated and presented the most applicable findings as
best practices for administrators and educators to implement. Findings represent the research
results from across the major components of online education, including the students, curriculum
development, course development, the role of instructors, and emerging technology. Although
numerous gaps in the research exist, there are sufficient, statistically significant findings to
confidently implement a high quality, effective, cost-efficient program.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 42
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Appendices
Appendix A
Key findings from Online College Students: 2015.
1. Nothing surpasses career preparation as a motivator in attracting students to higher
education, and online learning is no exception. Roughly, 75% of online students seek
further education to change careers, get a job, earn a promotion or keep up to date with
their skills. The third most appealing marketing message among the group sampled was
“a high job placement rate.” Colleges that want to excel in attracting prospective online
students must prepare them for and connect them to the world of work.
2. Online students are diverse in their preferences, so there is no one-size fits all strategy to
serve them. The preferences of online college students are often contradictory, so
decision-makers need to consider and pursue a variety of strategies to reach the
maximum amount of this population. For example, consider the response to this question:
“How often would you be willing to log in at a specific time to join a required discussion
or virtual lecture with your instructor and classmates?” Twenty-one percent responded
“never,” but 15% responded “more than five times per course.” When asked if they
preferred paper or electronic textbooks, 43% preferred electronics, 33% preferred paper
and 23% did not have a preference.
3. As competition for students stiffens, online students expect policies and processes
tailored to their needs. These include shorter academic terms (five to eight weeks);
generous credit transfer policies; informative websites; and speedy response times on
admission decisions, transfer credit reviews and financial aid packaging. These online
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 50
student-friendly practices are becoming minimum requirements for institutions that want
to thrive in this arena. For example, the amount of transfer credit accepted has
consistently been ranked one of the top 10 factors in selecting an institution in our survey,
and one quarter of students reported receiving that information prior to submitting their
application.
4. In online education, everything is local. Half of online students live within 50 miles of
their campus, and 65% live within 100 miles. Even though these students rarely, if ever,
visit the campus, it is nearby. Thirty-four percent of respondents reported that the
recommendation of friends, colleagues and relatives was an important factor in deciding
if a college had a good reputation. Online students were asked, “After identifying
institutions of interest, what were your primary methods of gathering detailed
information?” Twenty-four percent reported attending an open house, 31% had
conversations with friends and family, and 21% had conversations with their employers
or colleagues. Online students typically attend a local institution and rely on local sources
for information.
5. The college or university website is a critical source of information. It is likely that a
significant percentage of students base their decision solely on information from the
website, without ever speaking with someone from the institution. Sixteen percent of
respondents reported having no contact with personnel at the institution prior to applying.
The website is prospective students’ top method of gathering information about a
program. Forty-nine percent reported turning directly to the college website when they
were asked, “What were your primary methods of gathering detailed information?”
Similarly, 43% of students reported using the website to request more information about
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 51
their program of interest. Twenty-nine percent sent an email for more information, and
28% called the institution. Additionally, respondents reported that they selected an
institution based on a variety of information such as tuition, admission requirements and
available programs, all of which should be available on a college’s website.
6. Affordability is a critical variable. Forty-five percent of reported that they selected the
most inexpensive institution. In 2014, 30% reported selecting the most inexpensive
institution. Thus, it is not surprising that among 23 potential marketing messages, the
most appealing were “Affordable tuition” and “Free textbooks.”
7. Although a good number of students are committed to online education, they see room
for improvement. Only 10% of respondents thought online instruction was not as good as
their in-class instruction. But, when asked about their concerns with online instruction,
21% reported “Inconsistent/poor contact and communication with instructors,” and 17%
reported “Inconsistent/poor quality of instruction.” When respondents were asked if they
would prefer online tutorials, independent study or instructor-led classes, only about one-
third favored instructor-led online classes, which is far and away the predominant format
offered currently. One-third would like a faculty member as their advisor, which is
currently not a common practice. About half would find optional internships and on
campus courses attractive, but they are not typically offered.
8. A large segment of college graduates will never set foot in a college classroom. When
asked if they would attend on-campus classes if their program was not available online,
about 30% said they probably or definitely would not. About one-quarter said they
probably or definitely would not attend a hybrid or low-residency program. Just like
some people no longer go to theaters, banks or grocery stores, some people prefer to get
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 52
their education via the Internet. Advances in technology, such as mobile apps and
adaptive learning systems, will continue to make it easier for these people and others to
go to college online.
9. Blended programs hold promise. Although some students prefer never going to campus
and never participating in synchronous online learning activities, a significant percentage
are interested in on-campus activities, classes and internships. About half of the
respondents indicated they would attend a hybrid or low-residency option if their
program was not available fully online. Twenty-two percent indicated “One or more
optional on campus courses” was very attractive. A small number of colleges and
universities have integrated their online and campus programs so that most programs are
offered in both formats, most faculty teach in both formats, and most students enroll in
both formats. These institutions are in a strong position to meet student needs and
preferences.
10. Much of online higher education is highly commoditized. There are several popular
degrees offered by many institutions. Thirty percent of online students are enrolled in
three majors: business administration, nursing and computer science. Most universities
use one of three or four learning management systems that have similar features. The
same marketing messages of convenience and flexibility are used throughout the
industry. Many institutions even use the same adjunct faculty members to teach their
courses. The data in this report indicate that substantial numbers of students are interested
in features that institutions could use to distinguish themselves, such as price, self-study
options, faculty advisors or job placement rates.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 53
11. Online study leads to online study. The majority of current online students have past
experience with studying online. They know what it is, and they choose it among many
other alternatives. They are savvy buyers. In fact, one indication of students’ increased
familiarity and comfort with online education is the increased use of the modality at the
high school level. (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2015, p. 6-8).
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 54
Appendix B
Process for Implementing an Online Degree Program
1. Determine the purpose for starting online program
a. The mission of institution must be at the heart
2. Investment level
a. Do you want to have an online presence or be an online player
b. Must have committed administrative leader responsible for program
c. Invest in technology
d. Invest in developing quality online curriculum
e. Give access to faculty and students to online materials, subscriptions, accounts, etc.
3. Gain institutional buy-in
a. Faculty buy-in is generally the most difficult (give them incentive)
4. Develop support structures for online students/faculty for everything that in-seat has
(admissions, financial aid, registration, billing, library, IT, academic support, etc.)
a. Online students will expect “self-service where possible, just-in-time, personalized,
with customized and customizable service options that can be delivered interactively
and that are both integrated with related services and consistent” (Shelton &
Saltsman, 2005, p. 85) (p. 151)
5. Acquire accreditation approval
a. Properly credentialed instructors, appropriate academic rigor, continual assessment
and improvement, accurate record keeping, proper state approvals (both where school
is located and where students are located)
6. Conduct marketing and recruitment (Maddix, 2012, p. 150-152).
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 55
Appendix C
Online Program and Curriculum Mapping
After the decision is made to implement the program, success requires:
o Administrative and institutional leadership
o Internal resources
o Support from personnel across the university
o Program and curriculum maps (document the learning experience across the program,
facilitate the development of a cohesive online curriculum, and serve as a solid
framework to guide the design and development of online courses
Recommended Process
1) Assemble Team (including Instructional Designers)
2) Analyze your Adult Student Characteristics
3) Define Program Outcomes
4) Create Program Map
a. Make explicit connections among courses, assessment and program outcomes
b. Program Map Components
1. External and internal stakeholders
2. Program entry requirements
3. Program outcomes
4. Sequence seminars
5. Cohorts
6. Practicums
7. Capstone assessments
Note: Stiehl and Lewchuch (2005) provide templates and instructions
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 56
5) Develop Program Assessment Plan
a. Evaluate, measure and assess program outcomes
6) Create a Curriculum Map
a. Show how program outcomes are addressed across courses
b. The U of Hawaii defines a curriculum map/matrix as “a method to align
instruction with desired goals and program outcomes”
1. They also suggest clarifying where outcomes are on the map by using
IRMA instead of just an X to show the level of the outcome
a) Introduced
b) Reinforced
c) Mastered
d) Assessed
7) Define Program Level Expectations (consistent elements across courses within a
program)
8) Develop Course Guides for online course developers to follow
a. Course Description
b. University and Program Outcomes/Objectives
c. Prerequisites
d. Alignment of outcomes and assessments
e. Major concepts/topics/issues/skills to be covered
f. Suggested course materials and resources
g. Evaluation (course assignments/grades)
Derived from Bauer & Jones (2012), as cited in Maddix (2012), p. 155-161.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 57
Appendix D
Standards Successfully Used in an Online, Christian College
Non-exhaustive list of the program’s standards
1) Consistent communication by residential faculty and adjuncts (at least weekly from
faculty to students)
2) Accessibility to students (including those with disabilities)
3) Regular synchronous or asynchronous communication
4) Graded discussion forums
5) Create each course from standardized course templates
6) Use a video introduction by the instructor for each course
7) Submission of coursework (in a standardized location)
8) Standard deadlines (for course development/updates)
9) Regular review and updates on courses
10) Incorporate technological and educational resources in every course
11) Faculty training on educational technology
12) Course evaluations reviewed by dean in time to make changes to next iteration
Additional Curriculum/Infrastructure Guidelines recommended by Bourgond
13) Establish a curriculum production team (with Instructional Designers)
14) Use a standard, long term matrix protocol system for development
Adapted from Bourgond (2012), as cited in Maddix (2012), p. 140-145.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 58
Appendix E
Online Instructional Design Process
The faculty developing online courses should possess content expertise, online teaching
and learning experience, and an instructional design background.
Getting Started
o Use developers who understand the differences between traditional and online
instruction.
o Use a Course Development Team (CDT) that includes the developer, instructional
designer, and subject matter experts (SME).
o If a CDT is not possible, have the SME follow an instructional design model (like
a preformatted course map outline).
Process - Follow the standard instructional design process: ADDIE.
o Analysis (conduct a needs assessment)
Context of program and course
Student characteristics
SME insight
Objectives contain clear, concise, and measurable action verbs
o Design (the course)
Assure alignment
Balanced workload for students and instructor
o Development
Develop a syllabus (much more detailed for online courses – includes
support resources)
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 59
Be consistent across the academic program
Ensure that activities and assignments specify learning objectives, a
rationale for the activity, clear and detailed instructions, and explicit
grading criteria
Have plans/activities/assignments in place to foster community
Consider copyrights, technology limitations, accessibility, variety of
learning styles
Develop a teaching guide to assist instructors
o Implement (install the course in your learning management system)
o Evaluate (seek feedback on the quality and effectiveness of the course)
Course evaluations from students – give them to the dean
Course evaluations from faculty
Derived from Bauer & Jones’ article in Maddix, 2012.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 60
Appendix F
General Design Principles and Best Practices
Use good (clear, logical, consistent) course structure
Use clear learning objectives
Chunk the content into small units
Intentionally plan participation
Provide references to comprehensive, supplemental content
Use repetition to reinforce key ideas and compensate for distractions
Synthesize the content and assignments
Develop stimulating courses with some variety in appearance (not functionality)
Use open-ended assignments and discussion questions
Solicit feedback and evaluation
Web design specifics
o Use blank space well
o Cut out unnecessary words (be succinct) and use short paragraphs and sentences
o When listing content, bullets are preferred unless procedural order is necessary (in
which case use numbers)
o Use tables
o Give examples
o Meet users’ expectations for the way the information is displayed
o Use icons or small pictures to enhance the words
o Include pictures and other graphics, when appropriate
Recommendations for accessibility
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 61
o Provide text descriptions as alternatives for all graphics and images
o Provide text transcripts for audio and video
o Provide text-based versions of screens that involve extensive use of frames and
image maps
o Make links descriptive enough so they can be understood independent of the text
o Make backgrounds simple and uncluttered
o Select colors for text and backgrounds that provide high contrast
o Do not use flashing or audio alerts (unless they can be disabled)
o Summarize the information in tables in case it cannot be deciphered
o Be as consistent as possible in the layout of pages
o Provide alternate content for any multimedia component that requires plug-ins
o Ensure that keys can be used instead of the mouse to navigate and select options
o Allow the user to select control options and configure screen layouts
o Have your web pages tested by disabled individuals.
Derived from Moore & Kearsley’s (2011) research, as summarized on pages 111-114.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 62
Appendix G
Best Practices for Asynchronous Online Discussion Forums
1) Develop clear guidelines and expectations for discussion
2) Develop discussion rubrics that evaluate cognitive, social, and teaching presence
a. A substantive post is to include knowledge, grammar/spelling, and timeliness
3) The teacher is to facilitate and manage online interaction on a regular basis
a. Assure that students give the evidence supporting their views
4) Students should be responsible and committed to the process of online discussion
a. Openness and willingness to share
b. Flexibility
c. Honesty
d. Willingness to take responsibility for community formation
e. Willingness to work collaboratively
5) Generate discussion by asking good questions
a. Open ended
b. Higher levels in the Cognitive Domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy
c. Probing questions using the Socratic method
d. When appropriate play devil’s advocate
e. Promote both divergent and convergent thinking
f. Have students defend their stances with supporting evidence
g. Ask students to relate course content to personal experience
6) Create forums for informal and relational connections with students
7) Creating small class sizes increases student satisfaction (14-20 students)
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 63
8) Develop assignments that encourage collaborative and active learning
9) Create balance of student and faculty interaction
Derived from Maddix, 2012, pages 113-116.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 64
Appendix H
Summary of Online Discussion Study Results
The most influential factor for participation was the connection to grades (Gerbic, 2006);
Students in online classes participated more actively than students in face-to-face classes
(Lobel, 2005; Pilkington & Walker, 2003)
Students with previous or current face-to-face experience with peers participated more
actively in online discussion than those without face-to-face experience with such peers
(Brooks & Bippus, 2012)
Feedback and involvement from the instructor and teaching assistant were related to
higher levels of student participation (Wuttikietpaiboon, 2012);
Participation varied by gender (Cheng et al., 2012; Im, 2004);
Participants taking assigned or predetermined roles such as moderator or manager
showed higher levels of participation (Pilkington & Walker, 2003; Poole, 2000; Xie et
al., 2014);
The mix of cognitive styles in a group might influence activity level (Cunningham-Atkins
et al., 2004).
Asynchronous discussions were more structured and cohesive than synchronous
discussions (Bryce, 2007; Fernandez, 2007; Im, 2004);
The instructor’s involvement was related to higher levels of interaction (Light et al.,
2000; Xie & Ke, 2011);
Intrinsic motivation influenced the individual’s level of interaction (Xie & Ke, 2011);
There was a relationship between the degree of learner-learner interactions and students’
perceived sense of community (Dawson, 2006);
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 65
Arguments were likely to generate additional arguments and disagreement and then lead
to higher levels of interaction (Jeong, 2003);
Understanding the purpose of the discussion and posting questions promoted higher level
interactions (Ellis et al., 2006; Lapadat, 2007);
There was a positive relationship between level of interaction and time spent on
discussion (Sorensen & Baylen, 2004). (192)
The use of assessment rubrics encouraged students’ participation and achievement
(Wuttikietpaiboon, 2012);
Students participating in online discussion outperformed those participating only in face-
to-face discussion (Campbell et al., 2008);
Participation in online discussion promoted writing performance (Picciano, 2002);
Both active and reflective learners performed better as a result of participation in online
discussion (Zhan et al., 2011);
Kinesthetic intelligence and interpersonal intelligence were negatively affected by online
discussion (Cifuentes, 2003). (Zhou, 2015, pp. 191-197)
Zhou, H. (2015) A Systematic Review of Empirical Studies on Participants’ Interactions in
Internet-Mediated Discussion Boards as a Course Component in Formal Higher
Education Settings, Online Learning. Volume 19, Issue 3, 181 – 200.
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 66
Appendix I
Online Faculty Guidelines for Productive Discussion Forums
A. Prepare the Course
1) Develop it ahead of time.
2) Use clear but concise instructions.
3) Test everything (web links, learning management system functionality, etc.).
B. Establish Social Presence
1) Introduce yourself in discussion with professional and personal information.
2) Use videos of yourself when introducing yourself or posting announcements.
O. Discussion Facilitation
1) Approach the critical role of facilitating discussion with “rigor and attention”
(Norton & Hathaway, 2008, p. 489) in order to fully engage online students.
2) Refrain from falling back on default pedagogical methods. Many instructors,
especially those inexperienced with online learning theory, revert to how they were
taught if not diligent about using appropriate online techniques.
3) Instead of lecturing, help students personally connect to the course content in
order to build their own knowledge base.
4) Be Goldilocks in the online discussion (present enough to stimulate or guide it,
but without dominating it).
Running head: BEST PRACTICES IN ONLINE EDUCATION 67
4) Provide timely feedback, both to individuals and course-wide.
P. Maintain healthy scheduling boundaries
1) Use a practical schedule of interaction with students.
2) Post virtual office hours.
Q. Provide Closure
1) As the course nears the conclusion, begin to draw attention to this by reminding
students of any remaining final projects or assessments.
2) As the course completion nears, encourage those students who appear to be
struggling under the course load.
Derived from C. D. Osborne’s article in Maddix, 2012, p. 84-88).
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