The Online Learning Orientation Session: An Overlooked Retention Tool

By Beckford, Marguerite M. | Distance Learning, October 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Online Learning Orientation Session: An Overlooked Retention Tool


Beckford, Marguerite M., Distance Learning


INTRODUCTION

Online technology applications have tremendous potential to engage students in active learning. Examples include computer-based simulation and virtual labs, which can help make students' learning relevant to real life (McLaren, 2009). Online resources provide almost unlimited student access to text-based information, pictures, and videos that students can easily retrieve and review (McLaren, 2009). Instruction can be more readily individualized for teaching styles and learning styles by using datadriven instruction provided through student performance profiles (McLaren, 2009)

In spite of the potential that online technologies have for expanding access to education, the retention rate is lower for online courses than for traditional face-to-face courses (Allen & Seaman, 2013). In online instruction, the faculty member's role often changes from information source to learning facilitator. In this role, instructors are better able to provide students with personalized guidance, which has the potential to positively impact student retention.

Rovai (2003) notes the importance of acclimating students to the pedagogy of online learning by providing online learning orientation sessions. It is very important that prospective online learners be made aware of the entry skills that will be necessary for them to be successful. Institutions that offer online programs may also offer an entry skills self-assessment for students, to help them get a clear perspective on how well they will adjust to online learning. While many online degree programs take prospective students through an online learning orientation, most brickand-mortar universities that offer online versions of face-to-face classes do not mandate an online class orientation session for students before they are allowed to take for example, the online version of BSC 1005 (H. E. Johnson, personal communication, August 3, 2015). This can put students at a disadvantage because research indicates that for some students, there is an association between offering orientation sessions and student success (Derby & Smith, 2004).

The purpose of this article is to provide online instructors with strategies for designing orientation sessions. A matrix for implementing these strategies is outlined in Table 1. The recommendation is that online orientation sessions be offered to students as course prerequisites, to increase the chances of student success and reduce student attrition. It is also recommended that the prerequisite orientation session be evaluated as complete or incomplete before course registration is made available to students. As an online instructor, providing an orientation session for a course helps students feel more connected and less isolated. In some research, learners cite isolation and lack of connectedness as barriers to learning (Reisetter & Boris, 2004). Many students through trial and error will opt out of online learning in favor of face-to-face instruction, but it is very likely that some of these students, if provided a student-friendly orientation session to online learning, would have chosen not to opt out of online learning. Providing students with online learning orientation sessions is also essential for those for whom there is no face-to-face alternative.

ELEMENTS FOR DESIGNING ONLINE ORIENTATION SESSIONS

Orientation sessions for online classes should include information on what prior skills and knowledge are necessary to succeed in an online course. This includes expectations for students' capabilities in the following areas: motivation, self-discipline and self-direction, time management and organization, written communication, technology literacy, and access to technology (Orange County Public Schools, 2000). Tools should be included in the orientation session that can help students develop selfdiscipline and other student success skills. Orientation sessions should also provide an overview of the technology specifications required for course success, such as a computer with 1GB RAM and Windows 7, clearly indicate an estimate of how many hours per week students will need access to computer technology and the Internet (e. …

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