Supporting learners

The FDOL is my first really e-learning experience. Of course I have been commenting on others work on the net sometime, and also given feedback in e-mails, but not an entire course with e-learning. I have avoided it on purpose, I didn’t think that I would like it and I thought that it would be far too time consuming. I have watched colleagues participating in courses on line, and I think all of them underestimated the time necessary for participation.

The wrong choice of course leading to students dropping out is an important aspect, something that is the reality in both conventional courses and in e-learning. However, I think it might be more common in online courses that require more self-discipline, very strategic support and creation of communities to avoid the feeling of being abandoned as a student. Furthermore, students that are used to more traditional learning might get frustrated when they don’t receive the feedback they are used to.

In order to keep the students in the course the teacher might privately contact (maybe by phone) students that don’t seem to engage in the course and ask what they need help with. The student then will feel more part of the course, that their engagement matters and individual needs/problems might be solved. I also think it is good if the criteria for engagement and assessment are clear to the students from the beginning. Maybe the teacher should spend some time to discuss these criteria and also the expectations of both the teacher and the students in the beginning of the course. One of my peers in the FDOL also shared with the students how she sees the learning process in the online course. I think that was a very good idea. More active support from teachers/facilitators during the first weeks of a course might help to support learners, maybe in combination with support from peers, and then slowly working towards less support from teachers/facilitators and instead more peer-support. According to Coomey and Stephenson the amount of support from teachers and/or peers depends on whether the intended learning is teacher or learner led and if the learning activities are specified or open ended.

Support is not only about feedback but also includes support services and software tools. What kind of support that is required depends on the digital literacy of the participants, something which might vary according to theme and openness of the course.

I think the article by Simonds about motivation was really interesting! In my opinion feedback very often focus on the weaknesses. The one giving feedback starts with the positive things, strengths, usually very short. Then the focus shifts towards the weaknesses, what the student/learner thinks and experience, and how to proceed and overcome the weaknesses. I have never used the Strength Approach with students, however, I have tried it at home in my family a couple of times. Like cleaning for example, don’t tell the one that has been cleaning that this and this you didn’t do very well, but instead focus on what was done well and the rest will come…

Coomey M and Stephenson J. Online learning: it is all about dialogue, involvement, support and control – according to the research.

Simonds O. Motivating learners in open and distance learning: do we need a new theory of learner support? Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning. 2008.


image source

One could imagine that the person on the top is the one giving support to the learners trying to reach the top (symbolizing intended learning outcomes). The learners have to climb on a very slippery surface and are using different tools on the way to the top. Will the support be enough so that they manage to reach the top?

However, maybe it is the other way around; the learner is the one on the top crying out for help and support. The teachers/facilitators are trying to reach out to the learner. They are climbing to get closer, using different tools on the way, the surface is slippery. Will they reach the learner with their support?


2 thoughts on “Supporting learners”

  1. Yes, I think so too. Speaking of avoiding dropouts… I usually monitor the students’ presence on-line very closely especially in the beginning of a course, sending reminders to those who aren’t active. This is,very time consuming and of course, not necessary in an open course.

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