Many of the things that make
online learning so attractive to students, such as the flexibility of anytime,
anywhere access, can also make it more challenging. Without the benefit of the structure
and familiarity of a face-to-face course, less organized students can quickly lose
their way. And while students have spent their entire K-12 education immersed in
face-to-face learning, most have no idea what it takes to succeed in the online
classroom. In fact, many students enroll in an online course thinking it will
be easier than a traditional course. This lack of preparation and understanding
leads many online students to struggle and, at times, drop out.
To address this problem, educators
and researchers at Coastal Carolina University developed eLearnReady, a free, web tool designed
to analyze student preparedness for online learning and provide additional
support to those who need it.
Here’s how it works: Faculty or
institutions register their classes on the website and provide their students
with a class-specific URL prior to the beginning of the course. Students then
complete a 43-item survey aligned to nine targeted success factors in online
classes. These factors include self-motivation, self-management, need for
feedback, text reading ability, visual graphics reading ability, listening,
technology proficiency, and learning management.
eLearnReady analyzes each student’s
responses to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Students receive a
report of their ratings with a score of low, medium, or high for each category.
Students are then given written and video study tutorials, including scenarios
acted out by other students.
After students complete the survey,
faculty receive a class profile that compiles the results for students enrolled
in the course. Faculty are able to use this profile to tailor their instruction
to meet the needs of their students, as well as provide suggestions to the
class on how to be successful in the course. For instance, one faculty member
said that if students score low in motivation, he makes a point to provide more
encouragement during the class.
The results of the assessment can
also be used to prompt student engagement in the course itself. Cheryl Fulghum,
coordinator of distance learning at Haywood Community College, uses the tool as a collaborative
learning exercise to expose the myths that online coursework is easier, less
time consuming, and requires less involvement. After receiving their results,
students go to the discussion forum within the course to discuss one factor
that was surprising to them and one that wasn’t. The resulting discussion shows
students that online learning success has little to do with learning abilities
or being tech savvy. It is more about self-awareness and using proactive
One instructor said about the tool
It asks the right questions in a clear, concise manner. Other
instruments that I have used in the past have used technical jargon that many
students would not understand and have been too lengthy. The nine dimensions
hit on the main issues that I see with students struggling in online courses,
particularly self-motivation, self-management, course management system, and
technology. These [study] tips would definitely be helpful and reflect the
types of things I mention to students when advising them regarding taking an
Additionally, eLearnReady can be
used by academic advisors for screening students who demonstrate the lack of
skills needed for online courses and who may need additional guidance and
support to be successful. We found that students who took the assessment survey
before meeting with an advisor for the first time had more meaningful
conversations about manageable course loads and delivery method preferences
than students who did not take the assessment. We expected the tool to help
support the advising process; yet we were surprised, and understandably
pleased, with the empowering nature of the tool. Because they received
detailed, personalized results with practical suggestions for improvements,
students were more assertive and confident in their own strengths, weaknesses,
and needs when having those very-important initial conversations with advisors.
More than 17,000 students have
completed the eLearnReady survey across multiple states since it was first
introduced in April 2017. Some higher education institutions have embedded
eLearnReady into student orientation sessions, freshman seminar classes, and other
online courses. Even where the tool has not been adopted across the
institution, individual online instructors can use it to prepare their students
for success, reduce time spent addressing student preparation issues in their
courses, and better tailor their courses to meet student needs.
Corey Lee is an associate professor of instructional technology
and Sherri Restauri is the director of the Coastal Office of Online Learning at
Coastal Carolina University. Cheryl Fulghum is the coordinator of distance
learning at Haywood Community College.