The key to implementing strategies that maximize student satisfaction is attention to practical, manageable approaches that faculty can integrate within their instructional load.
EFFICIENT INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES FOR
MAXIMIZING ONLINE STUDENT SATISFACTION
Tetyana Rios, Grand Canyon University
Marquita Elliott, Grand Canyon University
B. Jean Mandernach, Grand Canyon University
The key to the success of any online program is dedicating attention to student satisfaction. Student
satisfaction with what and how they learn in an online classroom is an important variable to understand
and can help instructors and course designers create an environment that fits students’ needs. This can
be achieved with adequate course design, appropriate instructional methods, and an understanding of
individual students’ needs. Course design should be user-friendly, easy to navigate, and incorporate clear
guidance, rubrics, and constructive feedback and allow interaction with the instructor and other students.
It should incorporate effective visual, written, and animated content in a relevant and realistic context.
Using audio, video, and mobile tools of communication has a positive impact on students’ online learning
experiences. The students’ individual differences, such as technology self-efficacy, personality, and
engagement, impacts their course satisfaction. Extroverted, conscientious, and open students are more
likely to be satisfied with their online learning experience while introverted students may need additional
instructor help to succeed and be satisfied with the course. Engaged students are also more satisfied with
online courses and motivated to learn.
Keywords: efficiency, assessment, course design, online teaching, online learning, student satisfaction
INTRODUCTION associated with enhanced performance (Wang,
Key to the success of any online program is Shannon, & Ross, 2013), so attention to student
dedicated attention to student satisfaction (Dziuban satisfaction is likely to benefit other aspects of
et al., 2015). Unlike campus-based students, the learning experience. Satisfaction is a broad
who may be geographically-limited to a school concept that incorporates several factors that affect
regardless of their satisfaction with their learning student’s experiences with online learning and the
experience, online students can change institutions fundamental components of academic satisfaction
from the comfort of their own home. This is not to are found in course design, instructional methods,
imply that higher education faculty should prioritize and individual student differences. Key to
student satisfaction over other educational variables implementing strategies that maximize student
(e.g., learning, engagement, etc.), but rather that satisfaction is attention to practical, manageable
satisfied students are more likely to continue with approaches that faculty can integrate within their
their online education. With this is mind, it is instructional load.
important to reinforce the significance of student
satisfaction in postsecondary online programs COURSE DESIGN AND INSTRUCTION FACTORS
(Calli, Balcikanli, Calli, Cebeci, & Seymen, 2013; Course design is a critical factor in creating
Cole, Shelley, & Swartz, 2014). Equally important, a favorable environment for quality learning and
student satisfaction with an online course is student satisfaction with online courses (Gray
JOURNAL OF EDUCATORS ONLINE
& DiLoreto, 2016; Ilgaz, & Gülbahar, 2015). context that is relevant and realistic towards their
Course design involves creating individual and course objectives. To increase student satisfaction,
group activities, writing lectures, developing online courses should be organized to allow
curriculum, setting expectations and objectives, reflection and provide a platform for interaction
and administering assignments (Anderson, Rourke, and collaboration. Online courses should be
Garrison, & Archer, 2001). AlHamad, Al Qawasmi, designed with clear goals in mind and organize
& AlHamad (2014) noted that an online course that the reading materials, lectures, and assignments in
is designed in a way that allows easy navigation units (Kauffman, 2015). Equally important, faculty
will translate into students being interested in should utilize student feedback to identify course
interacting with it. AlHamad et al. examined the components that students are particularly satisfied
perception and satisfaction of students enrolled with, then prioritize consistent integration of these
in online classes and found that one of the factors components throughout the online course design.
that students thought was an advantage to online Many online classes are supported by a
learning is the permanence of material presented in centralized curriculum with readings, assignments,
the class. Almost 73% of the students in this study and discussion questions in place. However, in
indicated their preference for the material to be addition to the basic course requirements, each
posted by topic or in advance for the entire course instructor can contribute to the course design
(AlHamad et al., 2014). Lee (2014) noted that the by adding information unique to that course and
elements of course design, such as clear assignment information that will allow students to better
guidance, use of rubrics and constrictive feedback, communicate with their instructor. To maximize
as well as the instructor’s knowledge of the material, student satisfaction, instructors should:
were closely associated with course satisfaction. • Post a preannouncement and instructor’s
Students also expressed that positive interaction, contact information prior to the first day of
learner control, and course clarity (Cole et al., 2014; class. This will allow students to become
Price, Arthur, & Pauli, 2016), as well as the use of familiar with course expectations, set up
effective visual, written, and animated content, was tutoring (if needed), and communicate with
important in making online learning satisfactory their instructor regarding any questions or
(Calli et al., 2013). In a study by Kuo, Walker, concerns a student may have.
Belland, and Schroder (2014), the online course • Post announcements for all weeks in a timely
design was the most important factor in student manner, so students can access weekly
satisfaction. Within the course design, Kuo et al. information as early as they need during each
suggested that the two elements that stood out as week.
the strongest predictors of student satisfaction were • Post a message to clarify the purpose for each
learner-content and learner-instructor interactions. forum if an online classroom has different
To encourage students’ participation and the forums for postings, such as communication,
use of an online learning platform, it should be participation, or other purposes.
user-friendly with features that allow students • Post instructions on participation
to have a discussion, check grades, access requirements and writing format specific
documents, and send and receive messages (Wang to the course in the section that allows
et al., 2013). Ilgaz and Gülbahar (2015) conducted instructors to post additional material.
a mixed-method study investigating students’ • Reinforce the late submission, participation,
satisfaction with online learning. They found
and quiz-taking policy in the first week by
that instructional content, communication and posting a message in discussion forum as
usability, teaching process, advantages of delivery well as posting a separate announcement in
approach, competencies of e-tutors, and variety of the designated area.
instructional material were the factors that mainly • Post an announcement with the expectations
affected students’ satisfaction in online classes.
In a study by Sawang, Newton, and Jamieson for grading time and updates on posted
(2013), students expressed their satisfaction with grades.
an interactive online course that incorporated
JOURNAL OF EDUCATORS ONLINE
TECHNOLOGY AND COURSE DESIGN scheduled for the entire course in advance or as
Research indicates that student satisfaction with just-in-time instructional communications. Faculty
technology is highest when technology promotes can also spark students’ interest by attaching
real-life interactions and active engagement. In a content-specific memes and additional informative
study by Blau and Barak (2012), students were more links to the course material. Remind sends
likely to participate is course activities when audio messages in real time, which fosters an instructor’s
chat was used. Another interesting finding from social and teaching presence by depicting them as
this study is that students felt more comfortable assessable, approachable, and actively engaged in
discussing sensitive topics using a text-only medium the course. Integrating mobile technology connects
(Blau & Barak, 2012). Video communication may students to the online classroom which, in return,
also have a positive impact on students developing fosters students’ intrinsic enjoyment of their online
an emotional connection with their online course learning experience (Chaiprasurt & Esichaikul,
instructor (Borup, West, & Graham, 2012). Many 2013).
students in this study indicated that using video-
based communication makes the experience of SOCIAL, COGNITIVE, AND TEACHING PRESENCE
communication more real, and for a majority of The Community of Inquiry framework (CoI;
students it helped them develop a connection with Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000) incorporates
their instructor (Borup et al., 2012). three elements that provide a foundation for
The integration of technology can help facilitate collaborative learning and understanding students’
real-life interactions in a manner that is amenable satisfaction with their online learning experience:
to both the asynchronous nature of the online social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching
classroom and faculty workloads. For example, presence. As indicated by the CoI model,
Flipgrid (flipgrid.com) provides a social learning meaningful collaborative learning is achieved when
environment through a video website discussion all elements are present within an online course
platform in which faculty can pose a question to the (Garrison et al., 2000). The CoI framework can
class and then students can respond by recording a be used to help design online courses and clarify
90-second video. This creates a discussion thread students’ expectations (Cleveland-Innes, 2012; Shea
since students can respond to other classmates as et al., 2014) as well as predict students’ satisfaction
well. Similarly, technologies such as VoiceThread with online courses (Akyol & Garrison, 2014).
(voicethread.com) allow for multimedia interaction Social presence refers to the ability of
in a manner that allows faculty to reuse initial individuals to establish themselves as a “real”
instructional content while promoting active person in an online class (Garrison et al., 2000).
engagement between class peers. Social interactions within the online environment
Another technological innovation in online facilitate support by establishing collegial learning
learning is the integration of mobile communication. communities that lead to students improved
There are several mobile tools, such as attendance performance and satisfaction (Borup et al., 2012;
reporting, reinforcing feedback, and grading results, Zhan & Mei, 2013). The essential components of
that can influence students’ satisfaction with their social presence are open communication, group
accomplishments. For example, Remind (www. cohesion, and affective expression (Garrison, 2016).
remind.com), a messaging app that facilitates easy The presence of these components in an online
push-notifications to students in an assigned class, class allows students to freely express themselves,
allows faculty to send notifications directly to work in collaboration with other students, and
students’ mobile phones. Notifications may include reflect their emotions (Tolu, 2013). Two examples of
updates when grades are posted, new content is efficient strategies for fostering social presence are:
available, or announcements are updated. The value • Instructors should post their biography,
of technologies such as Remind lie in the efficiency including education background, hobbies
with which a faculty member can push one-to-many and personal interest. Including a photo or
communications. With Remind, notifications can video maximizes the personalized nature
be sent to an entire class, a small group of students, and can be created for re-use across multiple
or to an individual student. Reminders can be courses or terms. Faculty can also encourage
JOURNAL OF EDUCATORS ONLINE
students to post their biographies and photo their academic achievement throughout the
to promote comradery with classmates. class.
Sharing personal characteristics with the Teaching presence is a multidimensional
learning community can establish personal construct that consists of instructional design and
relationships, encourage interaction, and organization, facilitation and discourse, and direct
help students feel emotionally connected to instruction to help students achieve desired learning
other students and their instructor (Huahui, outcomes (Anderson et al., 2001; Garrison, 2016).
Sullivan, & Mellenius, 2014). To help students stay engaged and succeed in an
• Since most of the social interactions happen online course, the design should incorporate clear
in the discussion forum, instructors should expectations for the activities and submissions and
set an example of how to establish purposeful clear guidelines for communication. For example:
and personal communication. Asking • Post an announcement
students to acknowledge information, come • Send each student an individualized message
up with resolutions as a group, reflect on that includes detailed course expectations,
posts that present a different point of view, such as posting requirements, late policy,
address students by their name, and provide feedback return policy, major projects, and
personal examples during the discussion, can general conduct.
all have a positive effect on establishing an • Respond to students’ questions or phone calls
open channel of communication and building within 24 hours.
emotional connections with other students. Teaching presence is also established by
Cognitive presence highlights the ability to facilitating discourse and providing feedback.
explore information, construct knowledge, and Faculty promote students’ interest in course
come up with a resolution through collaboration material and activities by facilitating discussions
(Garrison, 2016). Students’ perception of how well and interactions, and providing timely feedback
they are doing in class depends on their perception (Anderson et al., 2001; Kauffman, 2015). To promote
of cognitive presence (Akyol & Garrison, 2014). student satisfaction and engagement—without
The presence of this element ensures that students overburdening instructional workload—faculty
are progressing in achieving their learning goals can:
(Gregori, Torras, & Guasch, 2012). Course design
• Incorporate real-life experiences when
and teaching approaches play an important part in
the exhibition of the cognitive presence and helps teaching in the discussion forum (Liu &
to enhance students’ satisfaction with the learning Yang, 2014).
• Apply prepared discussion posts to reply to
experience. There are a number of quick and easy
ways that faculty can promote cognitive presence students’ posts. These posts facilitate deeper
in the online classroom; for example: dialog and learning by clarifying content
• Collaborative learning groups are an effective confusion, bridging concepts, and asking
way to foster cognitive presence. Faculty probing questions. Instructors can save time
assign students to groups and each group for other teaching matters by saving these
is given an assignment they must complete posts in a Google docs file to quickly paste
together. Collaborative learning groups allow them when needed for content topics.
• Integrate weekly classroom assessment
students to work through challenges, work
with students from different backgrounds, techniques in the discussion forum by asking
and build lasting skills beyond the classroom. questions about points of confusion, areas of
• In addition to collaborative learning, cognitive interest, and application of ideas.
presence can be achieved through sustained • Share motivational quote announcements to
reflection on the learning outcome (Shea et foster student motivation.
al., 2014). Receiving personalized feedback • Provide personalized feedback on content
on the assignments and completing quizzes and formatting for each assignment so
can provide students with checkpoints on students can learn from their mistakes and
JOURNAL OF EDUCATORS ONLINE
improve their skills and knowledge with each Internet and other technology used in online courses
submission. may affect their learning experience and satisfaction
AGENCY AND ASSESSMENT with online learning (Kuo et al., 2014). According to
Agency and assessment are key components of Kuo et al. (2014), Internet self-efficacy, together with
student satisfaction with an online course. Agency perceived interaction with the instructor and other
refers to students’ ability to initiate and control classmates, was a significant predictor of student
their activity in the online classroom. Students’ satisfaction with an online course. Similarly, Wang
sense of agency, represented by motivation, time et al. (2013), found that students who had previous
management skills, and multitasking ability, affects experience with online learning had higher
their satisfaction with online learning (Dziuban technology self-efficacy and were more likely to
et al., 2015) and hinges on students knowing how receive higher grades.
they are doing in class (Dziuban et al., 2015). When Stress-free course navigation can help foster
students can assess their progress in class, as well as positive experiences with technology for students.
The main point of making the online platform
receive timely feedback from the instructor, they are
easy to navigate is to help eliminate the amount
more satisfied with their learning experience. Thus,
of time wasted by clicking and scrolling for
the instructor plays an important role in fostering
material. Students can spend that time learning the
course content and familiarizing themselves with
Grading assignments in a timely manner,
important additional elements of the course such as
providing substantive and holistic feedback, and
assignment due dates and supplemental material.
answering student questions within 24 hours helps
Instructors can upload a classroom tour video and
to maintain consistency in the learning students
additional technical trouble-shooting videos, such
learning environment. Instructors can also post
as the basic functions of Microsoft Word and Power
tutorials on how to help student effectively utilize
Point, to the main announcements page. These
the online learning features in the classroom.
videos will help students master locating important
Constrictive and detailed feedback provides students
items in the classroom and ease their anxiety if they
with an understanding on what they are doing well
are not tech savvy. These videos are most effective
and areas that need improvement. When students
if posted prior to the course starting in order to help
have a clear understanding of what they need to
students have an initial positive experience with the
work on, it can save them and the instructor time, as
online learning platform. Zoom, a video platform for
it allows both to focus on the areas that contribute to
video conferencing, webinars, and screen sharing,
improved learning and a better final grade.
is an effective resource to make these videos (zoom.
INDIVIDUAL STUDENT DIFFERENCES us). This software is easy to use and can provide
Research has identified a number of student synchronous modeled learning. Screen sharing with
characteristics that impact an individual’s Zoom is an excellent mechanism for students who
satisfaction with online learning. While faculty need step-by-step guidance when it comes to course
cannot control the individual student differences navigation. Instructors can share their screen with
that enter their online classrooms, there are several students to help guide them through the classroom,
student characteristics relevant to online learning which builds a strong sense of self-efficacy for
that a faculty member can influence: technology students.
self-efficacy, personality, and engagement. Personality
Technology self-efficacy Personality refers to a set of behavioral and
Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in thinking patterns that are consistent across time
their ability to carry out a specific behavior and and situations (Burger, 2015) and influence a
produce desired outcomes (Burger, 2015). In online person’s outlook on the world (Kirwan & Roumell,
education, technology self-efficacy is an important 2015). Students’ individual differences can indicate
factor affecting a student’s learning experience and their interactions, engagement, and involvement in
is reflected in course satisfaction and an intent to their learning (Bolliger & Erichsen, 2013). Student
continue with online learning (Sawang et al., 2013; personality has been investigated in several studies
Wang et al., 2013). Students’ confidence in using the focusing on course experiences and satisfaction
JOURNAL OF EDUCATORS ONLINE
with online learning. Among all personality traits, 1995), it is more likely that they will complete their
research highlights the relevance of extraversion, online courses. Keller and Karau (2013) explored
conscientiousness, and openness in relation to the relationship between the Big Five personality
students’ online learning experiences. dimensions and students’ impressions of their
The experience of learning online is different online courses. They found that the personality
for introverts and extraverts (Pavalache-Ilie & factors of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and
Cocorada, 2014). Introverts may have a higher openness were significant predictors of students’
preference for online learning (Kim, 2012), but impressions of online learning. Conscientiousness
they are more likely to disapprove of course was the most consistent predictor of all studied
work that requires them to work in a group with dimensions of engagement, value to career, overall
other students (Pavalache-Ilie & Cocorada, 2014). evaluation, anxiety/frustration, and preference for
Blau and Barak (2012) also found that introverts online learning. This means that conscientious
expressed greater readiness to participate via text students are more likely to be satisfied with their
chat, where extroverts preferred to partake in online course. Agreeable and open students scored
discussions using more revealing communication higher on a value to career dimension, indicating
media. The amount of participation and the quality that their course perceptions may be influenced by
of the discussions was also higher in extroverts. the aspects of online course that can bring value to
With that, introvert learners may need additional their future career (Keller & Karau, 2013). Students
follow-up in asynchronous communication, such who score low on this personality dimension could
as email or forums inside the classroom (Blau & benefit from additional support and guidance from
Barak, 2012). Bolliger and Erichsen (2013) reported their instructor. Building rapport is a beneficial way
that introverts were more likely to be dissatisfied to increase intrinsic motivation for online learners.
with a course content and intuitives with the Instructors can build rapport by welcoming
amount of interaction, while feelers expressed students to class with a welcome phone call the first
a need for more flexibility in a blended learning week of class. During this phone call, instructors
environment. Judgers, in the same study, expressed can connect with the students by sharing similar
a need for improving the course design and interest, hearing why the student decided to go
increased interaction (Bolliger & Erichsen, 2013). back to school, and learning about the students
A great way to identify these students is to send various academic and professional goals.
a welcome email to them during the first day of Another effective way to strengthen intrinsic
class that outlines course expectations and major motivation is to help students connect with the
due dates, and instructors can use this opportunity course material. Posting supplemental discussion
to ask students if they identify as an extrovert questions about real-world events and personal
or introvert to help tailor instruction. Once this examples, and getting students to share their
information is gained, instructors can capitalize on thoughts and opinions, is valuable. Finally,
it to help increase student satisfaction by having a instructors can show empathy by understanding
clear understanding of how certain students best that students occasionally have situations that arise
learn. This also helps save time in the long run that can prevent them from progressing in the
by knowing up front how to adjust their teaching course. Building rapport at the start of the course
strategies and build rapport that it is most beneficial saves time on the back end due to the relationship
for students. For example, for an individual with an built when teachers are trying to motivate a student
introvert personality, instructors can utilize email, that may be struggling with progressing in the
and private course messaging to check in with the course.
students and foster conversation. For individuals Online learning can be challenging due to
with more extroverted personalities, instructors the asynchronous communication between the
can post discussion questions via Flipgrid to appeal student and an instructor, and the fact that learning
to a more interactive and social experience. is self-directed. Students with high scores on
Given the characteristics of conscientious the dimension of openness are intellectually
students, who are strong willed and have an curious, open to new experiences, and willing to
intrinsic motivation to succeed (Costa & McRae, question their own values (Costa & McRae, 1995).
JOURNAL OF EDUCATORS ONLINE
Sawang et al. (2013) examined the role of student • consider student individual differences
characteristics on online learning satisfaction. when creating course activities and teaching
They found that the factor of openness significantly techniques.
contributed to students’ satisfaction with an online
course (Sawang et al., 2013), which may be related CONCLUSION
to open students having less fear of challenging Student satisfaction with what they learn and
course work (Johnson, Miller, Lynam, & South, how they learn in an online classroom is an important
2012) and believing in their academic capabilities variable to understand, as it can help instructors
(Di Giunta et al., 2013). and course designers create an environment that fits
Engagement students’ needs. It can be achieved with adequate
Engagement is an important contributor to course design, instructional methods (Kaufman,
student satisfaction with an online course, their 2015), and an understanding of individual students’
motivation to learn, and their performance (Martin needs (Bolliger & Erichsen, 2013). Course design
& Bolliger, 2018). Dziuban et al. (2015) examined should be user-friendly (Wang et al., 2013), easy to
the relationship between student satisfaction and navigate (AlHamad et al., 2014), and incorporate
engagement. Engaged learning relates to students’
elements such as clear guidance, rubrics, and
expectation for their instructor to provide a stable
and organized learning environment. The elements constructive feedback (Lee, 2014). Students also
of engaged learning include a student’s ability to expressed their preference for a course design that
“engage, reflect, understand material, collaborate, allows interacting with the instructor and other
find information, question, understand course students (Kuo et al., 2014), incorporates effective
requirements, and manage their own learning” visual, written, and animated content (Calli et al.,
(Dziuban et al., 2015, p. 129). How students view 2013), has a variety of instructional material (Ilgaz
any of these elements in the online classroom & Gülbahar, 2015), and has relevant and realistic
may affect their satisfaction with their learning context (Sawang et al., 2013). The use of technology
experience. Calli et al. (2013) studied how the is a newer element within course design that is
factors of perceived playfulness, ease of use,
gaining popularity due to students’ responses and
and multimedia content effectiveness may affect
student’s satisfaction in an online learning setting. increased learning satisfaction. Using audio, video,
They found that all three factors affected perceived and mobile communication tools has a positive
usefulness and therefore satisfaction with an online impact on students’ online learning experiences
course. The process of reflecting on the course (Blau & Barak, 2012; Borup et al., 2012; Chaiprasurt
content, referred to as learner-content interaction, & Esichaikul, 2013). Another factor that emerged
was deemed the most important predictor of student from the literature was the effect of students’
satisfaction in a study by Kuo et al. (2014). Learner- individual differences, such as technology self-
content interaction is a process where individual efficacy and personality, on their course satisfaction.
learners elaborate and reflect on the subject matter Conscientious and open students are more likely to
or the course content. To ensure student engagement
be satisfied with their online learning experience
in online courses, instructors can promote student
interactions with other learners and the instructor (Keller & Karau, 2013; Sawang et al., 2013). Despite
by doing the following: the fact that introverted students may have a higher
• participate in student discussions at least presence for online learning (Kim, 2012), they
every other day, may need additional help from the instructor to
• encourage students to comment on other succeed and be satisfied with the course (Blau &
participation posts and share their perspective, Barak, 2012; Kim, 2012). Also, engagement is a
• provide quality feedback in a timely manner, vital contributor to student satisfaction with, their
• ask students to incorporate required and motivation to learn in, and their performance in an
outside reading to their discussion posts and online class (Martin & Bolliger, 2018).
JOURNAL OF EDUCATORS ONLINE
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