In Ontario, 29% (360,000) of all postsecondary students in Ontario are online learners. Most are female and middle aged with families and responsibilities. As they work through 12,728 online courses and 809 online programs, they face unique academic challenges that they often have to overcome on an individual basis. The Northern and Remote project seeks to enhance the post-secondary educational journey for northern and remote online learners.
We conducted user research, targeting our recruitment towards students from northern and remote communities. Through interviews, a survey and a journey map that laid out their first year of online learning from discovery to completion, we were able to identify barriers and insights and recognize common themes amongst online learners. Specifically, they:
- Lack peer networks – people don’t talk to each other
- Represent all ages
- Lack internet and/or technological knowledge
- Live far from their respective institutions
- Have different educational levels and backgrounds
- Need to choose own engagement levels.
We also identified that online/remote/northern students are often unaware of existing academic resources that can help ease the learning process. They also don’t have a support network. Based on these findings, there is an opportunity to optimize and streamline the academic resources available to online learners, and provide chances for structured collaboration between peers.
We’re now working to develop a prototype that encourages collaboration amongst online learners, enabling them to share resources, experiences, and other pertinent knowledge. While some students seek an individual educational journey, others wish they had better communication with their school and peers. Our prototype tool will increase the students’ knowledge of academic resources, help them to establish peer networks, and give them the ability to take charge of their own success and feel confident about their education.
Hailey Graham, Stephen Low, Deanna Di Vito, Simon Lizotte