Going the Distance for Online Students: Closing the Gap Between Academic Institutions and StudentsJoe Chapman | Director of Student Services at ASU Online, Arizona State University
More and more, college enrollment has become digitized, further streamlining the onboarding process for both online and on-ground students at universities. And while we’re seeing significant growth in and adoption of online learning, helping those online students feel a part of their university or college can still be a struggle. Physical distance for online learners can translate into a lack of support or the inability to tap into a network of coaches and advisors that historically have only been available to on-ground students.
However, more institutions are realizing that support structure is critical to student success. At Arizona State University, we work quickly to introduce our online students into the Sun Devil family at the onset of their experience and ensure they have the resources and support they need from their first point of contact through graduation. This is particularly important for online students who can feel uncertain or overwhelmed by a new learning environment.
To ease the enrollment and onboarding process and help students succeed from the beginning, universities can work to minimize the distance between online students and the university by implementing:
A Comprehensive Enrollment and Orientation Process
From the moment an online student submits a request for information and submits their application, it’s important to make them feel connected to the university and empowered to ask questions during their enrollment process. One way in which we accomplish this at ASU Online is to offer enrollment counselors as dedicated individuals there to assist students through the process, help them check the boxes on application requirements, make sure they are off to a good start and build a deep connection with the university.
Additionally, before classes begin, we offer students the chance to participate in a week-long orientation class that will prepare them for success in online classes through assessments, articles, videos, assignments, tips and strategies. Orientation instructors ensure that students are equipped with the skills they need to begin coursework and to help them feel comfortable in their new online learning environment. To further a sense of community with their peers and professors, students can connect with classmates and professors through Facebook, Twitter, peer-to-peer chats and online clubs.
Students who complete the ASU Online enrollment and orientation process are more prepared to overcome their time management obstacles and are more adjusted to a work/school/life balance.
Supplementary Student Success Coaches
After acceptance, as students prepare to take courses, it’s important to have supplementary student support to educate students on academic best practices and serve as an enthusiastic proponent of their education. ASU Online fulfills this need by providing success coaches that are solely focused on helping online students with success strategies and reminders, continuing the one-on-one contact with the university. Through quality conversation and meaningful exploration, the coach will focus on goal setting, overcoming obstacles and achieving success. Success coaches are exactly what they sound like—personal cheerleaders who encourage online students throughout their entire college journey. Implementing this service has proven to be incredibly valuable for ASU Online students.
Engaged and Educated Academic Advisors
After students are enrolled, they’re often left with the question of “what’s next?” in terms of planning for long-term growth. Academic advisors within students’ colleges offer in-depth knowledge on degree requirements, and can assist in planning courses in an appropriate sequence to keep students on track. They also offer course optimization along the way, including recommendations for additional courses that may benefit students’ future goals. These in-house academic advisors serve as a one-stop-shop for students, not just for major-specific course information, but for all university-related questions, too, even if it’s connecting a student to another resource that will assist them.
Ongoing Virtual Support for Career Planning and Technical Needs
It’s also important for online students to get the person-to-person interaction they deserve, especially when it comes to preparation and success. By providing technological and career support, students are able to start their journey off on the right foot.
Technology is a critical component of online learning, making it important to have students review the online program’s requirements and reach out to tech support with any questions before starting classes. Providing tech support 24/7 is imperative in serving students across the globe who may be enrolled in online courses.
Receiving support from a career services professional is also critical to success in an online program, making it a truly valuable offering to students at the start of their collegiate careers. This year-round support for online students will allow them to solidify their career plan when they enroll, as well as continue to grow throughout their time at ASU Online. These services are designed to strengthen job search skills, resume building, enhance interview skills and more. This group can also help with career planning and determining the types of jobs your degree can lead to. Other services offered by online programs may include virtual career workshops, online resume reviews, virtual practice interviews, online chat with a career professional and access to downloadable handouts and resume examples.
Offering online program student services ahead of time may feel like a significant resource commitment on behalf of universities, but it is proven to be worthwhile. Getting familiar with advisors, counselors and tech support will only make students’ online experiences that much easier to manage.
Reducing Transactional Distance and Supporting Student Success
As technology advances, students are expecting more and more from institutions when it comes to facilitating a smooth transition to online learning. Students will continually seek a program that offers strong online resources and support, so they can reach their goal of earning a degree. By implementing the above online offerings, you can reduce the distance between students and the institution and ultimately help students achieve a success and foundation for tomorrow, while allowing them the flexible lifestyle to balance their responsibilities today.
Author Perspective: Administrator