Time is key to successful online learning


A recent study conducted by researchers from SFU’s faculty of education suggests that online courses may not be the easy A’s that students bank on.

SFU researcher Alyssa Weiss, whose work involves improving online collaborative learning, warns students against existing misconceptions about the online learning method. She explained that these can extend from the belief that online courses are easier and that they require less work, when in fact they demand the same types of work effort, deadlines, and exams as face-to-face courses.

Weiss feels that it is this type of misguided assumption that causes students to struggle and fail. “Student engagement in online discussions is hugely varied . . . there are important differences in how students pace and distribute their online learning time,” said Weiss.

According to the SFU Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) website, SFU is considered to have one of the largest programs in Canada for online learning. It offers university credit courses in undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as non-credit continuing studies.

Building on this new wealth of learning, Weiss’ research, published in Assessment and Evaluation of Time Factors in Online Teaching and Learning, examines how time management affects online learning. She and her team have demonstrated that during online discussions, both students and educators need to be aware of the amount of time students are putting into the course.

In her research, Weiss outlines four important factors that determine the value of the type of learning that is occurring: duration, salience, pace, and sequence. These involve students’ awareness of time spent, their rate of learning, and the order in which they are completing their tasks.

In spite of the challenges, Weiss feels that an enjoyable and successful online learning experience can be obtained. Since these courses provide all the resources and information from the start of the semester, students can plan out their work and know that there are no hidden surprises.

Weiss advises that students should set up an uninterrupted, scheduled time slot to work on an online course, thereby not falling behind. Weiss’ opinion is that starting these courses on time, staying consistent, investing energy and effort, and asking for help from online instructors and TA’s are key to successful online learning.