Below is some highlights from the study, "Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences." For the full study, see the link below
The study investigated what appeared to both support and hinder participants' online teaching and learning experiences. It is now more important than ever for online instructors to provide students with experiences that challenge their higher-order cognitive skills “as opposed to simply transferring content to them.”
Our findings revealed most participants viewed courses that emphasized text-based content, individualized learning, and limited interaction with others as being less helpful than those courses and programs that were more interactive and incorporated the use of multimedia. In courses that offered little to no interaction with others, students reported feeling disconnected with their instructors, the course content, and their fellow classmates. The majority of participants' online experiences reflected experiences that fit this model.
A second common theme we noted in the data was one of disconnection: disconnect between students and their instructors, students and other students, and online instructors and other faculty. When participants experienced this sense of disconnect, they described their online experiences as being less enjoyable, less helpful, and more frustrating than those individuals who made more personal connections and interactions through their courses.
Students participating in the study defined a “good” instructor as someone who is “accessible,” “flexible,” and provides individualized feedback. For online students, accessibility to instructors and information was fundamental and seemed to determine their overall impressions of their online programs.
Based on participants' experiences, creating a cohesive online community is a vital component of all online programs. Building a community of learners where students cooperate and learn together can become a “powerful motivator and a powerful mechanism” for extending learning.
Interviews with instructors also revealed evidence of disconnection among faculty members. Faculty training and support, though less-acknowledged, can serve as an important component in creating a sense of connection in an online program. When faculty are encouraged to work together, they can share ideas, study new technologies, and build off each other's courses. Despite these advantages, the programs and courses described in this study appeared to make little effort to encourage faculty networking.