Ensuring Student Success

Whether you recognize it or not, students and teachers have benefited from the flexibility of distance learning for decades. Many of us may recall our first distance learning experiences involving television as the instructional medium. For instance, Sesame Street® has been a powerful means of teaching us social, mathematical, and speaking skills for over forty years.

In the past decade, with increasingly widespread access to computers and the internet, online learning has become a consistent presence at all levels of education. As businesses, school districts, colleges, and universities have become "wired," online learning has evolved beyond pure distance learning. The ability for learners to extend communication and access resources outside of their school or work environments allows them to supplement, and sometimes fully replace, activities once reserved for the traditional classroom or workplace.

Customarily, online learning falls under the broader category of distance education. Distance education is defined by the United States Distance Learning Association as an "education program whereby students may complete all or part of an educational program in a geographical location apart from the institution hosting the program; the final award given is equivalent in standard and content to an award program completed on campus."

Typically, students and teachers reside in different locations, a physical classroom is not necessary, therefore the teaching and learning process relies on the Internet and a personal computer. 

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  • Assessing if your students are ready to learn online

    The Distance Learning Institute offers courses that are entirely online. That means there are no face-to-face class meetings. While this often adds flexibility for many students who have work schedules, family priorities, and other obligations, potential students often wonder if they are ready for online learning.

    We have developed a brief questionnaire to help your students self-assess their readiness for online learning. Items included are considered necessary to succeed in online learning. After they complete the questionnaire, written feedback will be provided to inform and help guide their preparation for online learning, if needed. 

  • How to successfully communicate online as a distance learner

    Asynchronous – Discussion Board

    Asynchronous discussions take the form of posts and responses to a discussion forum. In this type of discussion, the instructor will pose a topic and require students to post a discussion, respond and perhaps analyze and evaluate their peer’s submission. Asynchronous discussion may be used to generate discussion solely among students.

    Synchronous – Virtual Classroom

    Synchronous discussions are similar to chat rooms. The instructor will organize a time for a virtual meeting using the Collaborate Ultra tool and will provide topics for discussion. Synchronous discussions move rapidly and responses must be read quickly, thus emphasizing the ideas being expressed rather than who is expressing them. Students can send private questions to the instructor and receive a private response. Instructors will often record and archive chat sessions for students to review if needed.


    Since this is an online course, most communication from the instructor will take place via email and through the "announcements" section of the course map.

    All electronic communication from the instructor will be directed to the UM email address of the student.

    Students are responsible for the content of all communications. As such, students must monitor their UM email accounts frequently and regularly throughout the course.

    It is expected that students will follow the following guidelines when sending email to faculty or fellow students:

    • Use your UM email address only, as others may be filtered for spam
    • Use the subject heading appropriately
    • Include a salutation
    • Include your name and a closing


    Written assignments will be submitted electronically through the module assignment link in Blackboard, located with each assignment.

  • How to learn effectively when taking an online course

    Time Management for Coursework

    To be successful in a distance learning environment, you need to manage your time. Students tend to procrastinate and drop out of distance learning at higher levels than in traditional courses. This may be partly due to a lack of time management.

    Beginning Your Course

    • At the beginning of the course, make sure you understand course requirements and expectations in regards to completion of course material, activities and online participation. Estimate how much time per week you will need to spend on the course.
      • Generally, students should expect to study about two to three hours for each credit hour.
    • Schedule yourself, and stick to an assignment schedule, that coincides with the course syllabus deadlines, or that is negotiated with your instructor.
    • Schedule yourself daily/weekly for course communications for:
      • Student interaction/peer learning via discussion groups, chat, case studies, etc. Often you will be required to work on group projects or case studies, whether at one location or through Blackboard.
      • Feedback to the instructor: Your feedback to the instructor is critical to the success of your online course experience and to the improvement of the overall quality of the course. Students are encouraged to provide regular feedback to the instructor on course material, assignments, progress or any other issue.

    Throughout Your Course

    • Create a study routine. If at all possible, try to study at the same time each day. Having regular hours at least five days a week will make it easier to habitually follow the schedule and to maintain an active approach to study.
    • Space out your study periods. 50 to 90 minutes of study at a time for each course works best. Relaxation periods of ten or fifteen minutes should be scheduled between study periods. It is more efficient to study hard for a definite period of time, and then stop for a few minutes, than attempt to study on indefinitely.
    • Plan for weekly reviews. At least one hour each week for each class (distinct from study time) should be scheduled. The weekend is a good time to review.
    • Leave some unscheduled time for flexibility. Students often tend to over-schedule themselves.
    • Leave time for recreation.
    • Do not wait until the last minute to complete assignments. Many of your assignments will require research, which is something that cannot be done properly in a short space of time. Set several smaller study goals; if you have been given a task that you find overwhelming, break it down into smaller parts.
    • Make use of small windows of time that appear during your day. For example, an hour between classes is sufficient time to do something useful such as reading a chapter of a book or reviewing notes you have taken in a lecture. Do not be tempted to ALWAYS spend this time having coffee or chatting with your friends.
    • Give yourself rewards to keep you motivated.

  • What is netiquette?

    Netiquette and Group Dynamics: The Core Rules

    (Adapted from Harasim, L., Hiltz, S.R., Teles, L., & Turoff, M. (1995). Learning Networks: A Field Guide to Teaching and Learning Online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.)

    This refers to your efforts to create a sense of online community. Positive climate building can reduce anxiety about communicating online, and contribute to a positive collegial environment. Climate building can be developed by:

    • Use of first names by participants.
    • Responding promptly to messages sent to you.
    • Use of reinforcement phrases (i.e., "Good idea!" or "Thanks for the suggestion.")
    • Use of personalizing remarks (i.e., a reference to where you are working, what is happening around you, the weather, etc.)
    • Avoiding hostile or curt comments. No objectionable, sexist, or racist language will be tolerated.
    • Displaying humor.
    • Promoting cooperation by offering assistance and support to other participants and by sharing ideas.

    Beyond Netiquette: Do's and Don'ts

    • Demonstrating courtesy online is fundamental. Absolutely no abusive or libelous comments will be permitted.
    • Use only your real first and last name online.
    • Confidentiality: No one else should be given access to any of the conferences (either viewing onscreen or in print), without the previous consent of all participants and conferees.
    • Copyright and Plagiarism: Do not use the words or text of others without proper acknowledgment of the source or unless you first have the author's permission.
    • Be polite and respectful to fellow online participants by avoiding
      • Obscene language or sexual conversation
      • All-caps type, which is perceived as shouting
      • Repeating the same sentence continuously
      • "Flaming" others with emotional or angry messages
    • To communicate effectively in the online environment:
      • Use smileys, or emojis, to show the tone of voice or emotion 🙂
      • Use symbols such as asterisks (*) to emphasize words
      • Use acronyms such as "BRB" (be right back) or "AFK" (away from keyboard)