The Online Learning journal

Still catching up on important publications. This one came out in March 2021. The Online Learning Consortium has been publishing a journal, Online Learning, for 25 years. Its 25th anniversary edition is a special edition on the Covid-19 Emergency Transition to Remote Learning:

This is a meaty publication – 21 articles, and over 300 pages long. It is wide ranging and international in coverage. It is organised in three sections:

  • Section I: Investigating Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports in the U.S.
  • Section II: Brief Case Studies on the Pivot to Emergency Remote Teaching
  • Section III: International Perspectives

There’s no way I can adequately summarise this edition in a single blog post. What I will do instead is to pick and choose some of the articles I found most interesting, split the articles over a number of blog posts, and focus on the most salient findings about the emergency transition. In this post I cover the first three articles.  

Section I: Investigating Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports in the U.S.

Student perspectives in the USA

Means, B., & Neisler, J. (2021). Teaching and learning in the time of COVID: The student perspective. Online Learning, Vol. 25, No. 1. 

I have already briefly reported on this study in my Reports on Research on Covid-19 and emergency remote learning/online learning (no. 7 in my list). This article presents some of the key insights from the larger report in addition to findings from a new set of original analyses conducted to build on those insights.

Topics: Student satisfaction with emergency remote learning; student access to technology; student challenges; equity and access; predictors of student satisfaction; recommended practices

Sample size: a random national (U.S.) sample of 1,008 undergraduates, age 18 and older, who were taking college courses for credit that included in-person class sessions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and had to finish the course by learning at a distance.

Sample results: Students struggled with the digital divide, academic motivation, and other challenges, and these challenges were exacerbated among students of color and those from lower-income households. However, involving teams of faculty, instructional designers, and faculty development staff in redesigning curriculum and instruction not only resulted in a better course but is also a very effective form of professional learning.

Learner support during Covid-19: perspectives from Chief Online Officers

Bouchey, B., Gratz, E., & Kurland, S. (2021). Remote student support during COVID-19: Perspectives of chief online officers in higher education. Online Learning, Vol. 25, No.1

Topics: Colleges must provide high-quality and equitable support services to their online students including retention services (e.g., orientation, advising, coaching, course registration), student engagement (e.g., student activities, athletics, student government), student wellbeing (e.g., student counseling, health services), and learning support (e.g., library, writing center, tutoring, career services, technology support).

The article states that higher education institutions should provide an online student service that accomplish three key objectives:

  1. Identify the needs of its online and face-to-face learners.
  2. Ensure that services are available when the learner wants them, rather than when the institution is ready to provide them.
  3. Ensure that the virtual services are as good as or better than the in-person equivalents.

Methodology Semi-structured Zoom interviews of 31 chief online officers (COOs) from higher education institutions across the United States. The criterion for participation was that the individual’s position must fit the overall definition of a COO, one who has the most decision-making authority over online programming. This set of interviews was conducted in May and June 2020 and represented a cross-section of higher education institutions in the USA.

The research question the interviews sought to answer was: How were higher educational institutions’ online student support services affected during the pivot to remote learning necessitated by COVID-19?

Sample results: Not surprisingly, the sudden shift to a fully virtual environment brought gaps in student support to the attention of the entire campus community and the higher education sector in general.

Five major themes arose from the data:

  1. virtual services provide access for all students: 26/31 participants mentioned that online students had less access to student support services than their face-to-face counterparts before COVID-19, yet at all 31 institutions, COVID-19 shifted online support services to all students. One of the most significant findings of this study and the COVID-19 experience is that institutional leaders have realized that providing online student support serves all students, not only online students.
  2. expansion of student services to remote delivery because of COVID-19 Due to COVID-19, student services suddenly expanded to remote delivery
  3. existing online services enable a more seamless institutional pivot to remote delivery: some participants (23%) said that previously existing online support services allowed their entire university to pivot to remote delivery more easily than their peer institutions.
  4. online units and COOs are integral to institutional pivots to remote delivery The COO and online units have become critical resources to enable campus-based departments, staff and administrators, and faculty to operate remotely
  5. curiosity about the future of online student services COOs speculated about whether the more robust online student services realized during COVID-19 would continue after students returned to campus and whether the experience with remote offerings in student support would make these offerings more efficient.

These findings illuminated the gaps between the student support services offered to face-to-face students and their fully online counterparts. The forced shutdowns and the ensuing pivot to emergency remote operations closed these gaps rather quickly, thereby increasing access to these critical support services.

Covid-19 and California Community College Instructional Responses

Hart, C.M.D., Xu, D., Hill, M., & Alonso, E. (2021). COVID-19 and community college instructional responses. Online Learning, Vol. 25, No. 1

This survey of distance education leaders (N = 45) in the California community colleges system aimed to:

(a) characterize pre-COVID distance education resources, emergency responses to the pandemic, and readiness for online instruction in the fall, and

(b) determine how pre-COVID distance education resources, emergency responses, and fall readiness relate to each other.

The study found wide variability in pre-COVID distance education resources. These pre-existing resources were related to institutions’ responses. Colleges with fewer pre-COVID resources focused on foundational efforts such as creating online student services, while institutions with greater pre-COVID resources offered somewhat broader responses to training students and faculty in skills to successfully transition online. Although colleges improved their readiness for continued remote instruction in the fall term in terms of training faculty and providing students with technology to access classes, respondents estimated that roughly a third of students would still face barriers accessing remote classes.

A general comment

One problem with this publication is that it is preaching to the converted. I doubt anyone working in online learning – the most likely to read this journal – will be surprised by the most of the results of these studies.

Secondly, even – or especially – specialists in online learning are unlikely to plough through a 300 page journal edition when they are already heavily engaged in just keeping the lights on in a pandemic.

These results – for instance ALL students, on-campus as well as off campus, benefit from remote or virtual student support – need a wider audience, particularly senior management and mainline instructors in universities and colleges. 

This is why I am using my blog in the hope that through my network of readers, the results of these studies can be brought to the attention of a wider audience, as many of the findings are significant.


I am devoting the next post to one article, which I found to be of particular interest, A Pandemic of Busywork. It provides strong, empirical evidence that instructors at Indiana University tended to overload students with online work when they pivoted to emergency remote learning.


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