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Seven Principles

Effective instruction can be leveraged for adult learners with the use of technology when it:

  1. Encourages contact between students and faculty
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Encourages active learning
  4. Gives prompt feedback
  5. Emphasizes time on task
  6. Communicates high expectations
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

These "Seven Principles" are based on the Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann article "Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever."

1. Interaction between the student and teacher (or tutor, or other expert)

Principle 1 is very important, because students in the online environment, and especially at the 100/200 level, require an extra degree of structure and support. This results because students often have not worked in independent learning environments. Therefore the instructor must provide "extra" structure and use more invasive communication tactics than in a resident classroom situation.

Some examples of how the instructor can structure the class and use the technology to help students perform better in this environment include:

  1. For the first month or more of the class (and perhaps best if throughout the class), the instructor should ask students to complete a larger number of small assignments (vs few large assignments), and require that they be submitted to the instructor at regular intervals (eg, once-a-week rather than once-a-month). This keeps the students on task, and the instructor is able to keep track of individual student progress and take corrective action immediately (if required).
  2. For the first two weeks of class, the instructor (or facilitator) should communicate with each student (e-mail, phone, chat session, etc) at least two times per week. This will bring a sense of "connectivity" between student and faculty member, and create a sense of "belonging" in the student.
  3. Bring in one or more "outside experts" for students to interact with ....whether real-time (e.g., chat rooms) or asynchronously (listservs, bulletin boards, etc).


2. Student-student interaction

Attention to Principle 2 in the online environment will enhance students' sense of community associated with the class and the institution. This will increase student retention and provide students with online peers for study sessions, help with problems, etc.

Some examples of how the instructor can structure the class and use technology to help students perform better in this environment include:

  1. Assign group projects whereby students must interact to complete a given assignment.
  2. Use bulletin boards, listservs and e-mail (asynchronous), and chat rooms (synchronous) for....

    a. Assignments: To get group projects completed.
    b. Fun: A good way to build student-student rapport. For example, encourage students to use the chat area for "non-class" discussions to build rapport and to become more adept at using chat communication tools.
  3. Plug into college online chat environments (e.g., virtual student union, etc).
  4. If students agree, list student e-mail addresses on a web page (with built-in links) for easy access to their e-mail addresses.


3. Active learning

Easy to say.....hard to do. The majority of students will do best in active (vs reflective/passive) learning environments simply because the majority of humans are "active learners". Emphasize hands-on learning as much as possible, vs. read/memorize/regurgitate models. Therefore exercises stressing case studies, interactive problem-solving, etc. are best. In 100/200 level classes there is a lot of building of the knowledge base (i.e., understanding the foundational elements of a particular subject), and will require greater creativity of the instructor to provide active learning environments relative to 300/400 level courses, where students can learn in more independent and less structured modalities.

Depending on the subject area, there are more and more tools provided by textbook and software publishers that are available to support active learning activities.

Some examples of how the instructor can create and use active learning in the online environment include:

  1. Have students "create" something, whether physical (e.g., a physical model) or virtual (e.g., an electronically-delivered environment on the web).
  2. Have students research and report on some topic. The reports can then be shared via the web, listserv, etc with the class as a whole, or solely with the instructor.
  3. Create interactive problem sets using online test maker software or other tools, such as Java or CGI (Common Gateway Interface)-based modules. A number of such exercises are proliferating on the web. For example, take a look at the following sites:

Java-based biology modules at
California State University's Center for Distributed Learning

The California State University-sponsored
Multimedia Educational Repository for Learning and Online Teaching


4. Rich, rapid feedback

Feedback can take any of several forms. However, the most important feedback from instructor to student includes (1) simple feedback indicating the instructor is available and ready to address questions and needs of the student, and (2) rapid feedback addressing student performance in the course. The first type of feedback relates to the First Principle outlined above in helping the student feel "connected" to the instructor, the institution and to other students. The second type of feedback keeps the student focused on course objectives and progress toward objectives (e.g., outcome-oriented objectives). More importantly, rapid feedback relative to performance is necessary for effective learning. Learning is enhanced when assessment of performance is immediate (vs delayed).

Some examples of how the instructor can create and use active learning in the online environment include:

  1. Instructor should keep up with e-mail or other communication tools used in the course (e.g., bulletin boards, etc), responding at least daily. It is often beneficial if the instructor lets students know a priori when he/she will be checking class e-mail/bulletin boards/etc.
  2. Instructor can let students know, in a timely fashion, how they performed on a particular assignment, project, etc. Use of online test generation and delivery tools can provide immediate feedback for interactive exercises that lend themselves to multiple-choice or true-false types of exercises.


5. Time on task

Students are most likely enrolled in online courses because of time constraints due to work, family, etc. Therefore they are more likely to demand higher efficiency in the learning environment. The online environment must be convenient and efficient in regard to course activities.

  1. Some examples of how the instructor can create a convenient and efficient online environment include: If a web environment is used, navigation features should be intuitive and efficient so that the student can easily get to a desired assignment, description(s) of subject matter, site, etc
  2. Mechanisms used for communication should be clearly spelled out so students will have no doubt about:

    a. How the student is to communicate with the instructor.
    b. How the student is to carry out and submit assignments, and will receive feedback from the instructor regarding those assignments.
    c. What requirements there are for interaction with other students.
    d. What the possibilities are for interaction with other students outside of class assignments (e.g., virtual student union, use of e-mail or course chat area, etc.).
  3. Clearly indicate whether resident class meetings (e.g., on campus) are required, when, and where.
  4. Clearly indicate how student progress will be assessed (e.g., online tests, e-mail/fax/snail-mail writing assignments, take tests at assessment center on campus, proctored exams, etc.).


6. High expectations of the student's ability to learn

Students will rise to the level of expectation set by the instructor .....whether in online or resident courses. As described for previous principles, online environments can be configured such that those expectations are made known, in clear terms, to the students.

The online environment can offer extra incentives for high quality work from students. Some examples as to how the instructor can create a challenging yet stimulating and enjoyable online environment include:

  1. Students will often "rise to higher levels" when they know their correspondence or assignments will be available on the web for other students in the class (or the world if so allowed) can read their work, etc. Use of the following tools will allow for activities to create such a climate:

    a. Use of listservs or bulletin boards for class correspondence.
    b. Have students create their own web pages, and link to them from the class page.
    c. Publish student assignments on the web.
  2. Use group projects so that student-student interaction is a "driving force", rather than all expectations deriving from the instructor.


7. Respect for different talents, ways of learning

Different people learn in different ways and have different skill sets. Instructors need to understand general categorizations of learning styles, and how to best reach the majority of learning styles. The online environment offers a rich and varied set of methodologies to better meet the needs of diverse learners.

Some examples as to how the instructor can create online environments that meet a variety of learning styles, and account for varied skill sets, include:

  1. Create or employ learning materials that are media rich, and flexible in regard to how the student can peruse and/or experience them.
  2. Present materials in a manner that is both highly structured (i.e., linear) and highly networked (i.e., "cross-linked") so that the needs of both linear and non-linear learners are met.
  3. Make sure any prerequisites for the course are clearly stated and enforced.


* This summary was written originally by Dr. Steve Ernst when he was the Director of the Center for Academic Technology at Metro State.

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