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MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol. 6, No. 1, March 2010

students who take this class

the class.



will be more students will

successful in online classes than students who have not also be more successful in online classes after they

taken have

succeeded in OSS.

Literature Review

A review of the literature finds little focus on student preparation for online learning. Much of the literature on online education in general (not focused on a case study or particular course) is centered on how teachers can create a learning environment that engages students and supports active learning. Some authors deal primarily with how technology can be used to enact good teaching. Horton (2001) discusses how Web design principles and interactive tools can be used to make online learning effective. Others start from the teaching side and then move to technological considerations (Chickering and Ehrmann, 1996; Collison et al., 2000; Elbaum, McIntyre, and Smith, 2002). These works are focused on the teacher and their consideration of students is informed by what online instructors can do to help students within a particular course.

One trend in the literature is to recognize the different role that teachers play in an online course. New names such as “moderator”, “guide,” and “facilitator” are applied to this role, though these works also concentrate on the teacher’s part of the online learning discourse. Palloff and Pratt (2001) argue that the most successful online courses are ones that are centered on learners, not faculty. They extend this model to the design of online programs and believe that highlighting the faculty interest, as opposed to the students’ interest, may be a reason why online students have lower retention rates than on-campus

students. Some authors provide specific tips on helping students in online classes.

For example, Chute,

Thompson, and Hancock (1999) encourage instructors to conduct hands-on orientation sessions and set up Web pages with frequently asked questions, noting that complete introductions taking place near the beginning of a term help establish familiarity with the online learning tools. They also recommend the establishment of a help desk so that students can get technical difficulties resolved quickly.

Other guides on online program development realize the special needs of students in this modality, but their focus is also on technology. Moore, Winograd, and Langue (2001) include a list of ten benchmarks for evaluating online courses. One is included under the heading “Student Support,” and it encourages students to be trained on how to use required technology. Making the interface seamless for learners is recognized as good teaching practice, so students can focus their energies on meeting course learning objectives.

Case studies and those that derive data from student surveys also tend to support technology-related tasks or instructional design within courses. Vonderwell and Zachariah (2005) conducted a case study on participation, and they found that technology and interface characteristics are the most important factors in encouraging quality participation. In Chee and Warner’s study (2005) technology training was cited as significant in promoting student satisfaction.

Recent studies have added a focus on the attributes shared by students who are successful as online learners. For example, Berenson et al. (2008) found that students’ emotional intelligence, which the authors recognized as an intrinsic factor, as a significant direct predictor of grade point average in online classes. Yen and Liu (2009) discovered a similar relationship between course success and learner autonomy. In a case study focused on attendees of an online course in aviation physiology, Artino (2009) revealed that the educational goals of students prior to enrollment were linked with their value of and satisfaction with that particular course. These studies focus on what successful online students brought with them to the online learning environment.

The general thrust of student-success literature is that instructional design by professors, technology training for students, and identifying the characteristics correlated with student success are key; little attention so far has been paid to the effectiveness of focused training in preparation for online learning.


Two different methodologies were used: a review of historical data as well as data collected via a follow- up survey. Each subsection below provides information on both types of research.


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