Meeting Online Students’ Needs

For the past week or so, I have been thinking about a 2012 article from the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching that a colleague shared with me. The article, written by Karen Milheim from the University of Walden, examined how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model applied to online courses and online students. For those of you unfamiliar with Maslow’s work, he theorized that humans have five different levels of needs that must be met for individuals to survive and grow. In his conceptualization, these needs are arranged hierarchically, with Level 1 needs being the most critical for survival. These levels of needs include:

Level 1: Physical – the need for food, water, health and rest
Level 2: Security – the need for shelter, safety and stability
Level 3: Social – the need for being loved, belonging, inclusion
Level 4: Ego – the need for self-esteem, power, recognition, prestige
Level 5: Self Actualization – the need for development and becoming what one is intended to be

While Maslow developed his “theory of human motivation” in the 1940s, the JOLT article offers a fresh perspective on this groundbreaking framework. To be honest, I love when authors do this. By taking something old and seeing how it applies to something new, Milheim’s article can help us as online instructors focus on whether we’re meeting students’ basic needs. While I work a lot in the K-12 and collegiate online teaching world, I worry that we focus too much on the technological aspects of online instruction. Sure, instructors need to know how to upload content and set up discussion forums, but teaching, regardless of its modality, is a human process. Milheim’s article does a great job of focusing on the human element of online teaching.

In this post, I’m not going to completely rehash the JOLT article. Instead, I thought I’d use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (and Milheim’s article) to frame a few self-reflection questions that online instructors should consider as they design and facilitate classes for their students.

Level 1: Are your students’ physical needs being met? How do you know? Are your online students aware of the services and supports that are being offered on campus?

Level 2: Have you outlined the norms of practice in your online class? Do you share clear rules of netiquette to support positive discourse? Have you developed a safe space where ideas can be shared and discussed respectfully?

Level 3: How do you intentionally build community in your online class? How? How do you support “a sense of belonging” with students?

Level 4: How do you recognize students when they’ve done great work? Do you help students self-assess their work? Do you provide feedback to help students improve their work?

Level 5: How do you foster student ownership in your online class? How do you help students pursue their own areas of interest and develop as individuals? Do your provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning?

One thought on “Meeting Online Students’ Needs

  1. Pingback: Fragility and Change | The 8 Blog

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