IT Teaching Resources

Students speak about their online learning experiences

A small qualitative study that examines the perceptions of components of virtual schooling

Article Research Promising practices

Title: It’s Not That Tough: Students Speak About Their Online Learning Experiences
Authors: Michael Barbour, Angeline McLaren, and Lin Zhang

Key points

  • Students generally enjoy the flexibility of online instruction and remote learning environments
  • Students report that online learning environments tend to lack the sense of community often found in in-person classroom settings; This problem tends to be exacerbated by asynchronous modules that consume class time
  • Students found asynchronous class time—that is, a scheduled block of time with independent activities—to oftentimes be boring or not helpful

K-12 online learning is growing in Canada and elsewhere in the world. However, the vast majority of literature is focused on practitioners and not on systematic inquiry. Even the limited published research has largely excluded the perspectives of students engaged in virtual schooling. This study examines secondary student perceptions of components of virtual schooling that were beneficial and challenging. Students largely enjoyed their virtual school courses and found the synchronous classes, the technology, and the ability to control their own learning as positive aspects of their experience. Students also found the lack of a sense of community, working during their asynchronous class time, and the asynchronous course content to be challenging; and made suggestions for improvement to each, along with advice to future virtual school students.

What would this look like in a course?
  • Consider how to develop a sense of community among students at the beginning of the term.
  • Introduce cultural norms and practices especially for fully online settings, in which community-building may be more difficult.
  • Structure asynchronous time, such as in breakout rooms or group discussions, with purpose and audience in mind.

Barbour, M. K., McLaren, A., & Zhang, L. (2012). It’s not that tough: Students speak about their online learning experiences. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education13(2), 226-241.