About Dr. Boettcher

Recent Activities

Home page

May 12, 2006

E-Coaching Tip 13: Re-shaping Learning Habits of Online Students

This e-coaching tip focuses on situations that often arise with students who like to "hang on" to the habits they have from face-to-face environments.

A couple of tips that we've mentioned before have to do with the need to be very explicit as to what you expect of your students. And to be very explicit about your own work schedule and when you will be primarily available for responding to email, reviewing discussion board posts and even available for telephone or chat room conversations.

Similarly, sometimes we need to take our students by their hands, and guide them explicitly through the use of learner-to-learner spaces and applications within Blackboard. For example, students can be very habitual about sending email to their instructors, but not habitual about posting questions in open forums to other learners.

Teaching Techniques

Here are a couple of tips as to how to handle a group of students -- or even one particular one -- who wants to carry on a one-on-one dialogue with you. One-on-one dialogue is occasionally necessary, but what makes an online community are students opening up and talking with other students.

  • When a student sends you an email with a good question, praises the student for their good question, ask them to post it in the student open forum, and don't answer the question! One colleague is much tougher on her students -- she has a policy of only handling content questions within the "online classroom." When students email her with a content question, she may reply the first time with a kind reminder to post the question online. Over time, the replies get much more direct!
  • If the group of students is not using the open forum area for student questions and conversations, you might want to post a question or observation to "prime the pump." Or you could use a well-honored technique of asking a few students individually to post questions.
  • Another suggestion from Rita (as we chatted this morning) is to have the group of students name the student question space for themselves. For example, in some courses, this space is called The Cyber Café, The Water Cooler, or simply, The Question Place. I like a name that suggests an informal gathering space where students can "think aloud, " exchange process ideas, and to just "bond" and network with each other, and share family pix!

More Background

Keep in mind the 3/3/3 design principle of an online course. One-third of the dialogue is between faculty and learner; one-third is between students and one-third is between the student and course resources, including reading, individual writings, etc. The faculty-student dialogue somewhat depends on how much the faculty member is "talking" via their writing, summarizing and providing feedback to students. As we develop more experience and even better online tools, we may well see the percentage of dialogue from the faculty to learner to be even less, as faculty assume more habits of facilitation and mentoring. The particular percentage of course, is not as important as working to achieve a balance of dialogue, so that the faculty member is not the one doing all the talking. How we define the faculty to dialogue is also shifting. For now, we consider that the faculty member is "talking" via their writing, summarizing and providing feedback to students. Keep in mind the related principle that when the faculty member is talking, the student needs to be very actively processing the ideas for the talking to make a difference in the students' knowledge structures.

Note on the reference: There are a number of references about the principle of balancing the dialogues within a campus-based course and online courses. (More is in one of the teaching tips of the spring -- tip #

One reference selected is a recent research study (November 2005) on factors affecting student satisfaction in an online course that we thought you might find interesting. This study affirms that "students' interaction with classmates and their instructor have an impact on their satisfaction with Web-based courses."

The lit review and discussion grounds the effectiveness of dialogue back to Vygotsky and the theory that "Learning is a social activity that involves interaction with the instructor and among students."

In the conclusion, the authors encourage the move to "self-regulated and social learning activities" and for innovative instructional activities that encourage student engagement and ownership of the learning process. "

So while we as faculty need to encourage learner-to-learner interaction, we need to continue to improve our instructional strategies to make that interaction constructive and dynamic.


Boettcher, J. V. (2003). Course management systems and learning principles ---- Getting to know each other:. Syllabus. 16: 33-36. http://www.campustechnology.com/article.asp?id=7888

Kim, Kyung-Sun and Moore, Joi L. 
Web-based learning: Factors affecting students' satisfaction and learning experience First Monday, volume 10, number 11 (November 2005),
 http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue10_11/kim/index.html. Accessed May 12, 2006.

M.G. Moore, 1989. "Three types of interaction," American Journal Distance Education, volume 3, number 2, pp. 1-6.

E-Coaching Tip 13: Re-shaping Learning Habits of Online Students



Ecoaching Table of Contents



Revised May 20 2013
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013