A student focuses on her laptop in the library, representing how online learning programs are managed.

5 principles to guide online learning programs

Research shows how online learning programs vary in the extent to which faculty are prepared to teach and manage them

Faculty preparation for teaching online courses varies widely by institution and is far from consistent, according to a new report gauging how online learning programs are managed.

The report, a joint effort of online program manager Learning House and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), follows up on previous research showing that almost 90 percent of surveyed AASCU schools with online programs experienced barriers around faculty acceptance of online learning, along with the increased effort faculty devoted to developing online courses.

Read more: Does your online program hit the right notes?

Research shows that finding and equipping faculty members to teach online courses is one of the biggest concerns AASCU members say they grapple with.

This most recent report presents survey responses from 95 AASCU chief academic officers responding to questions about how institutions recruit and train online faculty.

“Today, online and hybrid courses comprise 38 percent of the courses offered at AASCU institutions, and despite an overall decline in higher education enrollment, the number of online students continues to increase,” says Dr. George Mehaffy, AASCU’s vice president for academic leadership and change. “To meet this demand, institutions are rapidly developing and deploying online courses, but the level of faculty support varies widely, ultimately impacting the quality of both the faculty and student experience.”

Survey responses yielded five key findings about online learning programs:

1. Online and blended learning is significant at AASCU institutions, with 67 percent of courses taught by full-time faculty. Ninety-eight percent of those full-time faculty members are expected to teach online courses as part of their regular workload.

2. Training and development of faculty who teach online is not consistently mandated, and 45 percent of this required training is focused primarily on LMS or technology use instead of best practices around instructing online. Additionally, faculty contracts can sometimes prevent the mandating of training and development opportunities.

Read more: 8 students spill the tea on their online learning programs

3. Evaluation of faculty who teach online is not universal, though 90 percent of faculty do receive student feedback at the end of each course. Seventy percent of supervisors evaluate faculty annually, and 18 percent do so once per term, however peer-to-peer evaluations are rare.

4. Faculty engagement with online learners is often not defined by set policy, and many AASCU institutions lack a formal, defined policy for faculty member’s interactions with online students, which could include how often faculty must post on message boards, or how quickly they must respond to a student post.

5. Concerns surround the hiring of adjunct faculty, despite the fact that 55 percent of undergraduate general education courses are taught by adjunct faculty members. Seventy-three percent of AASCU institutions turn to adjunct faculty to deliver online courses due to the flexibility to allows for addressing variations in enrollment.

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Laura Ascione

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