Student Preparation for Distance Education

By Taormino, Mark | Distance Learning, May 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Student Preparation for Distance Education


Taormino, Mark, Distance Learning


INTRODUCTION

The focus of this article is to identify characteristics of successful online students to support an informed enrollment decision when entering a distance education program. According to Boyd (2004), "there may be only certain kinds of students under certain conditions who can successfully learn via the online format" (p. 31).

The growth of online educational opportunities has provided access to many students that otherwise might not have had the opportunity for study. Morris and Finnegan (2008) stated "nearly 35% of all higher education institutions in the United States are considered fully-engaged in offering online courses and programs" (p. 56). There are many colleges and universities offering distance education programs, often with very robust marketing initiatives to reach prospective students. For students new to distance education, a likely question for them is if distance education is a suitable learning path. More pointedly, how can potential students identify the traits, characteristics, and competencies needed for success in distance education programs?

A learning institution needs to partner with students when advising them about a specific program of study. Perhaps equally important is to counsel students on characteristics of successful online learners. Schrum and Hong (2002) suggested that potential students might not be aware of the challenges they could face in an online learning environment. Student awareness of the characteristics, traits, and skills for online learning is an important area of dialogue between the student and learning institution. According to Boettcher (2007) "The period of data gathering and decision making is an important advising juncture for many online learners; a time during which institutions have an opportunity to capture the learner and forge connections that last over time" (p. 2). Identifying desirable characteristics of online learners can serve both students and institutions to help create a strong relationship between the student and institution, leading to student persistence and successful program completion. Both institutions and students share a common interest in successful program completion.

A detailed and accurate understanding of online learning can help students make the right decision toward pursuing ordine study versus classroom based education. Howland and Moore (2002) found that "accurate expectations of learner responsibilities" was an important element for student success (p. 187). Schrum and Hong (2008) suggested that a common misperception might be that people believe that distance education is quick and/or easy. Such a misperception might lead to student dissatisfaction and attrition. Morris and Finnegan (2008) expressed a concern about higher drop-out rates in online courses than in comparable face-to-face courses, and the need to understand the linkages between behavioral factors, including those factors related to student persistence and success online. Boyd (2004) also expressed a concern about student attrition rates in online programs. Because student drop-out rates can be higher in online environments than in classroom environments, students can benefit from understanding some of the characteristics that can serve as a catalyst for successful learning. There are important characteristics of successful online students that should be shared with students throughout the recruiting and advising process.

Self-assessment to help determine suitability for online learning is not a new idea, and there are many easy to use student self-assessment tools. Examples of some sites include:

* OnlineLearning (www.onlinelearning .net);

* Perm State University (http://ets.tlt.psu .edu/learningdesign/assessment /onlinecontent/onlinereadiness);

* Maryland Online (http://marylandonline.org/assessments/online_learning_ forme); and

* Oregon Network for Education (http:// oregonone.org/DEquiz.htm).

Many colleges and universities offering distance education programs have online self-assessment tools for prospective students. …

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