The Four Factors of Effective Online Instruction

Coomey & Stephenson (2001), after conducting a "systematic review of existing empirical literature," concluded that four major features of online learning are "essential to good practice":

  • Dialogue

    Interactions involving instructor to student, student to instructor, and student to student, typically in the form of email, bulletin boards, real-time chats, asynchronous chat, group discussions and debate.(Key finding: such activities, particularly discussions, must be structured into the course, and work best with clearly defined questions and moderator activity to keep discussions focused.)

  • Involvement

    Engagement with materials, student collaborations, student direction and motivation. (Key finding: primary inhibitor to involvement seems to perception that collaborative tasks or additional work is "too time-consuming.")

  • Support

    (The most frequently mentioned feature of all four) Manifestations of support for online learning includes periodic face-to-face contact, online tutorial supervision, peer support, advice from experts, feedback on performance, support services, and software tools. (Key finding: traditional students (i.e., undergraduate students, expect more traditional feedback and are frustrated if they do not receive the level of attention they expect. Strong online groups foster perceptions of "congeniality.")

  • Control

    Refers to the extent to which learners have control of key learning activities and the extent to which the learner is encouraged to exercise that control. (Key finding: traditional students (i.e., undergraduate students, expect more traditional feedback and are frustrated if they do not receive the level of attention they expect. Strong online groups foster perceptions of "congeniality.")