Supporting transition to online study

Across the country, students are preparing for a significant new chapter in their life. They have selected a university and a course which is inextricably linked to their chosen career path, ambitions and dreams.

The current situation has disrupted the normal transition to Higher Education settings. Starting a new course in September 2020 will be a drastically different experience and not what the students of this cohort would have anticipated a few months ago.

Despite the significant difference, students will be keen to keep their journey on track and business schools will be keen to support their students either fully or partially online from September and beyond if needed. Some of the challenges facing students in this transition will be familiar: the different expectations and modes of learning in HE; the need to develop good time management skills as well as self-discipline and motivation; and the need to perform well in assessments.

Some challenges however will be new to both students and business schools, such as the decreased sense of connection between students and faculty, the very different teaching and learning experience and the lack of social experience and interaction that comes with not being on-campus. How students can employ study skills to succeed in HE studies within an online environment will also be a critical challenge.

So how can business schools aid students in advance of September and support them with their transition into an online HE course?

Be clear about what to expect

Support students with understanding the expectations of studying at HE level and explore what online study will look like. You may wish to include:

  • What students’ new online courses will look like, including: typical content types, interaction with instructors and peers, how practical elements may be replicated or replaced, and how a course may have been restructured or changed from any previous marketing or information available to students. Include tangible examples where possible. For instance, many business schools are actually finding it easier to secure guest lectures now because they don’t require travel time for the guest. It is worth pointing out to students that these parts of the course are going ahead as usual.
  • The expectations of HE studies, including being a critical and independent learner, the differences between previous education settings and HE, and the importance of social learning within online study modes.
  • The online support systems available to students and how to access them.

Highlight the importance of digital skills

It could be easy to assume that, particularly younger students, will be very familiar with technology, have good digital skills and can easily adapt to online environments. The reality is that many students will not have access to adequate technology such as a laptop or sufficient broadband and may not have adequate digital skills to support their learning.

Offer study/digital skills support including, but not limited to:

  • Personal: effective online communication, participation and digital identity.
  • Collaborative: working with others, being an effective member of an academic community.
  • Informational: finding, interpreting, managing and sharing information.
  • Technical: using digital devices, software and applications.

Support students with information on how to learn online

Try to avoid providing resources that are not relevant to the students’ online experience. Do not include, for example, materials which refer to campus buildings, resources or social spaces. You may wish to include:

  • How and where to access courses, online library resources, calendars and other external learning tools.
  • Critical thinking, reading and writing applied to a fully online context, e.g. learning from multimedia content.
  • Maths support applied to a fully online context. Maths is often the area that new business students are most concerned about. A study into maths anxiety at Sheffield University found that 48% of students who expected to study maths as part of their course, were worried about it. It is worth reassuring students about what you have in place to support them.
  • Searching, reading, note taking and synthesizing learning materials online and using online tools to support learning, e.g. portfolio or mind-mapping software and reference management software.
  • Personal study skills, e.g. managing time, creating an effective study space and supporting wellbeing within a fully online study context.
  • Maximizing assessment performance, e.g. planning assessments, academic writing and avoiding academic misconduct.

A further consideration will be how to provide this information. An online course, based on your institutions VLE, shared in advance of September will help support students to feel that they are supported in preparing for their first day.

This approach could also be used to highlight any specific learning needs, digital skills gaps and where support teams could provide proactive support based on any needs or gaps identified across large groups.

By John Roberts, Online Learning Consultant, Pearson UK

If you are looking to move your induction online for September, our Student Success Services can help. We are building new content in the form of interactive online learning modules that specifically respond to the challenges facing students at this time.