BACKGROUND: STUDENT SUCCESS
For instructors and administrators of traditional classroom and distance learning courses alike, the leading indicators of success for college courses remain the retention and academic achievement of students. While technologies have changed many aspects of how students study in college as well as how college courses are taught, the metrics of persistence and performance continue to be used by institutional decision-makers in defining success. As a result, to maximize our success as online instructors we can and should work to ensure that our students have the study habits and learning skills to be accomplished e-learners. Not only do such skills improve the odds that online students will be successful academically, it also increases the likelihood that they will continue to enroll in future online or on-campus courses.
From developing time management skills to learning how to take effective notes in college courses, students who develop functional study habits and learning skills are more likely to have a successful learning experience and continue their enrollment (Cuseo, n.d.a). According the Cuseo (n.d.a), Professor of Psychology and Director of First-Year Seminar at Marymount College, “It is reasonably safe say to say that there has been more well-conducted research on, and more compelling empirical gathered in support of the first-year seminar than any other course offered in the history of higher education” (p. 1). As a result, more than 700 college campuses in the United States (FYE National Resource Center, 2000) have developed “first-year experience” (a.k.a., “student success”, or “college survival”) courses to teach practical study skills to today’s college students. Many of these classes combine study skills lessons with campus orientations or other college-life skills (e.g., money management, decision making, reading comprehension) to create holistic first-year programs for students. Yet, the basic function of preparing students with the knowledge and skills to become academically successful college students is consistent across the curriculums.
For most online students the development of effective study habits and learning skills is also critical to their academic achievement and retention (i.e., their success and our success as educators). After all, “Students enrolling in an e-learning class must not only master the course’s subject matter but also possess the technical skills to participate in the course and study effectively” (Arabasz, Pirani & Fawcett 2003, p.42). And while many traditional study habits can be adapted for application in online courses, the development of new high-tech learning skills is also necessary for e-learning success (Watkins & Corry, 2005). Online colleges and programs have, however, been slow to adopt study skills and other preparatory courses for distance learning students. This chapter provides background on the potential impact of first-year experience courses and lessons on both academic performance and student persistence, describes the unique opportunities and requirements of e-learning study skills, offers alternative formats for creating a positive first-year experience for online students, and discusses the role of faculty and program evaluations in maintaining the long-term success of any first-year experience initiative.