Are Students Ready for Online Classes?

The number of U.S. college students taking at least one online course was estimated to be 6.7 million, 32% of all higher education enrollees (Allen & Seaman, 2013).  In a Project Tomorrow report (2011) 43% of high-school students identified online classes as an essential component of their ideal school.  Pressure to obtain a college degree has increased the number of students entering college without the requisite level of academic preparation. With a larger number of students wanting or needing online classes, what can we do to continue to offer a quality university education?  Means, Bakia, and Murphy (2014) offer strategies to improve the success rate of under-prepared students.

Set prerequisites for taking online courses:

  • Administer an assessment of “readiness for online learning”
  • Require successful completion of an online orientation prior to course enrollment

Improve the pedagogy of online courses:

  • Ground teaching of a new concept or skill in a concrete context
  • Ask learners to apply key skills in multiple contexts
  • Use spaced, quick assessments of learning
  • Represent concepts in multiple media but avoid overloading the learner’s cognitive capacity
  • Include practice and assessment items that require students to generate answers and provide feedback as quickly as possible
  • Provide feedback that addresses the nature of a student’s misunderstanding and includes tips for remediation
  • Apply the Goldilocks Principle in selecting problem difficulty
  • Build in scaffold for developing self-explanations and self-assessment routines
  • Harness the power of peer-to-peer collaboration
  • Create a sense of instructor presence and responsiveness

Improve the support systems for online students:

  • Counsel students individually to clarify course expectations and set up needed arrangements before the course starts
  • Provide mentors for online learners
  • Institute “early alert” systems based on learner analytics and course progress measures.





Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Babson College, MA: The Sloan Consortium. Retrieved from

Means, B., Bakia, M., & Murphy, R. (2014). What research tells us about whether, when and how. New York, NY: Routledge.

Project Tomorrow. (2011). The new 3 E’s of education: Enabled, engaged and empowered: how today’s students are leveraging emerging technologies for learning. Congressional Briefing – Release of Speak Up 2010 National Data for Students and Parents.  Retrieved from