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July 14, 2011

Spoonfeed or Not? The Instructional Support Dilemma of Potential Drop-outs

How much support is too much?
anger frustration online learning
This morning we had a student disenroll and get a full refund in one of our online programs claiming technical issues with the course. Reading her email, it sounds like we have put up a real train wreck of a course with broken links and hard to find information. The student piled on criticism, to expedite her money refund, and it is a sad example of how unprepared learners can not only fail, but like to externalize their reasons for failure.

Of the 15-or-so enrollees in this course, she consumed 3 hours of tech support compared to an average of 1 minute required by the rest of the students to get herself setup for the online course. Of all the students enrolled in the program, she was the only one for whom I had to remote into her computer and install a standards compliant browser to use basic JavaScript libraries necessary to consume course content.

I have seen these cases before, they are accidents waiting to happen, taking down everyone within a radius of 10 miles around them. After calling this student pro-actively for any tech issues she may be facing, on the day of course launch, I had no call-back. So one would assume, meh, no news is good news. Right? Wrong.

In retrospect, what went wrong? Nothing was surprising about the finger pointing. One pattern that emerges distinctly from learning-learner mismatches is the symptom of under or overconsumption of tech support.

Balanced consumption of tech support is a definitive indicator of success with online learning. Low consumption can imply a genuine comfort with the technology or the fright of asking questions and looking stupid. The former is prevalent in western cultures and the latter in eastern cultures. So here in the states, under consumption of tech support is not a true indicator of learning-learner mismatch. Overconsumption of support resources, inability to grasp the key points and develop key skills, lack of meta-cognitive skills in general will throw an online learner off track very quickly in hard courses.

So what are the solutions to ensure a good learner-learning match? Screening processes prior to admission can be time consuming, however offering and monitoring preparatory support patterns and giving a few days to withraw for a refund are good ways to deal with the dilemma of potential mismatches.

Posted by rdivecha at July 14, 2011 09:39 AM


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