The practice of distant learning is not a new concept. With its roots in the US postal service, remote learning used to be a relatively lonely exercise with long delays between communication and limited personal interaction. Fast forward to 2022 and distant learning – now more commonly known as online learning – looks vastly different from the distant learning of the mid-19th century. And despite the common myth that studying online means studying alone, in today’s technologically advanced world that’s a long way from the truth.
Feeling a sense of belonging is important in any thriving community, and exceptional online learning environments are no different. Online universities like Swinburne Online, have gone to great lengths to build social ecosystems to ensure students can learn, collaborate and socialise when and how they like.
There are dedicated online tutors facilitating virtual classrooms, student advisors available for technical help around the clock and student coaches on hand for motivation and guidance in instilling productive study habits. With the aim of connecting peers and building communities, these initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg. At Swinburne Online, the following initiatives have also been established to help new students feel connected and supported:
- Student Mentor Program – This is a program that invites new students to be assigned a mentor who provides advice, motivation, is available to answer questions and direct students to other appropriate support services as needed, and above all, be a friendly face having been a new student once themselves.
“When I read about the mentor program, I thought it would be a great opportunity to help point me in the right direction and maybe meet someone else from uni. It takes a lot of pressure off – knowing you have a helpful, guiding hand to get you through the teaching period.” – Matthew Jenkins, Swinburne student studying online
- Study Buddies Program – Anecdotal feedback from students studying online has shown that sharing the highs and lows with fellow students can help build up motivation and confidence. Enter the Study Buddies Program, an arranged partnership with two to three like-minded students studying the same subject together. Buddies can choose to study together, share insights from class and keep each other accountable.
- No. 1 Supporter Program – Research shows that students who have support from their personal network are more likely to progress with their studies. In the No. 1 Supporter Program, students nominate someone – a family member or a friend – to receive fortnightly communications from the university.
It was useful getting emails because it reminded me to ask mum how she was going with her assignments…If she was stuck on a section, I would talk about it with her to help her get unstuck.” – Reyne, No.1 Supporter.
By keeping the student’s supporter up-to-date throughout the teaching period, supporters know how and when to best assist their student.
- Orientation Week (O-Week) – Studying online doesn’t mean missing out on the ‘traditional’ university experience. Swinburne Online holds a two-week orientation, hosted on their official student-to-student social platform (similar to Facebook), called Connect. Not only do students leave well-prepared to begin as an online learner, they also make lots of new connections and have fun doing so. Connect is available to all students no matter where they are in their degree, so students will always feel a part of the student community.
Online learning has evolved into a network of the touch points for social interaction and engagement. Students studying with student centred online learning providers such as Swinburne Online are supported 24/7 with tutors, coaches, advisers, mentors, buddies and families aiming to empower them and give them the motivation and confidence to succeed. And thanks to innovative practices in online learning, remote study can facilitate a highly social experience where students can come away with lifelong friends.
This blog post originally appeared on Tutors Field.