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Learning Enhancement and Development

Session 2F - Paper 2

Examining students’ attitudes towards online courses: a case study of digital distance learning across four continents

Dr Lisette Johnston - Learning Enhancement and Development (LEaD), City, University of London

This paper draws on students’ experience of an online course when they are based in different time zones. The findings could have implications for best practice in design and delivery of technology enabled learning. It also looks at opportunities for further student engagement taking into account learning approaches, digital technology and the limitations of the instructor.

This paper examines students’ attitudes and experiences of online learning with the aim of informing educators about how to improve engagement. It uses a media communications course which was delivered to students based in four global cities in 2016 as the main case study. Drawing on findings from qualitative interviews and a small survey by course participants the paper considers their attitudes towards technology enabled learning, touching on areas covered by Morrison (2012): interaction/learning community, technical issues, course design/structure and the learning environment. Respondents were based in four different time zones and results suggest that this was major challenge in terms of student engagement in two respects. Firstly, there were ‘live’ elements such as webinars and the time difference limited access to this and to connecting with the instructor.  It also had an impact on the sense of community forged within the student cohort. However, in terms of course design, the technology employed to deliver the course did allow students to access information across different digital platforms using various devices. This made the course potentially more accessible and also took on board different learning approaches given that there was no or limited face to face contact during the course. However, engagement had to be good in order for students to benefit from that course design

By drawing on the student experience using the case study approach this paper aims to contribute the field of academic practice and builds on other works which focus on improving online engagement (Deng and Tavares (2013, Vonderwell 2003) Overall, the paper aims to inform best practice in the area of technology enabled learning by recommending and opening up the discussion on strategies and prospective changes which could be made by educators working in online learning and courses where content is digitised. The strategies particular relate to course design and delivery and potential challenges associated with this, for example, using social media to engage and also ways of maintaining interest and rapport.

The presentation aims to answer the following research questions:

  1. What were students’ attitudes towards online learning when this was the sole or main mode of delivery for their course?
  2. What steps can be taken to enhance or improve the online learning experience for students?
  3. Based on the findings, what prospective changes could be made by educators and what are the prospective challenges associated with this.

The research aims to benefit educational practitioners designing and delivering online courses, . A round table discussion would allow scholars to discuss their own experience of working in online environments and give testimony of key advantages of course delivery and course interaction with students. Drawing on the discussion as well as the paper’s findings will hopefully give food for thought for educators to improve design of online course content in the future.


What devices and platforms have you used if you have developed online courses, and which ones do you think work best in terms of promoting engagement?

What are the perceived risks of using certain platforms, both for students and for educators?

How important is the student experience in terms of altering learning design in online environments?


Deng, L. & Tavares, N.J. (2013). From Moodle to Facebook: Exploring students' motivation and experiences in online communities. Computers & Education68, 167-176.

Morrison, D. (2012). What Students really think about Online Learning, Online Learning Insights, 4 June 2012. Available https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/what-students-really-think-about-online-learning/ 69 [Accessed 31 Jan. 2017].

Vonderwell, S. (2003). An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in an online course: A case study. The Internet and higher education6(1), 77-90.