The Magic Pill of Online Learning?

With many institutions’ abrupt transition to online instruction, I thought I’d share a post from January 2016 that discusses the importance of recorded orientations. Enjoy!

As a regular online instructor, I know how powerful online orientations can be.  In every one of my classes, I include a short video that walks students through the basic elements and features of my online classes.  I try to make the organization transparent for students and make it clear for them how to access course content, find their grades and participate in discussions.  To make sure students watch the video, I assign it as one of the first activities in the class and release the rest of the content only after I know students have accessed the video.

Initially, my rationale for including orientation videos was purely selfish.  I wanted to reduce the onslaught of emails I received at the start of online classes.  Many students wouldn’t know how to navigate the online learning environments and I’d get bombarded with questions about how to access materials.  But then I started becoming more knowledgeable about the best practices that are promoted by organizations like Quality Matters.  By including an orientation video, I found I could tackle several of the QM standards at once, which ultimately would help make my online classes stronger and more pedagogically sound.

I came across some research recently that adds more evidence for including orientations in online classes.  In research conducted at Excelsior College, several instructional designers targeted some of the worst performing online classes.  These classes had the highest withdrawal rates and some of the lowest overall grade distributions on campus.  While a variety of techniques could have been implemented to change the students’ performance in the classes, the instructional designers chose to include short orientation videos to target “common technology frustrations of beginning students.”  In the videos, instructors “covered basic navigation, such as posting to a discussion board, submitting an assignment to a drop box, reviewing a grading rubric in the grade book, and opening a graded copy of an assignment to view instructor feedback.”  The orientation videos also included interactive components so students could check their learning of the skills covered in the videos.  To promote rewatching and remediation when needed, the videos were accessible by students throughout the whole semester.

While it seems like a pretty simple strategy, the results were really compelling.  The researchers found the withdrawal rate dropped measurably in the online classes after orientation videos were included.  They also found that the overall grades in classes increased.  Although no other changes were made to the online classes, more students chose to remain enrolled in the courses and students were more successful.  With the ease of creating orientation videos with tools like Jing, Camtasia and Screencastomatic, this practice needs to be promoted as a “low investment, high reward” strategy that all teachers should incorporate in their face-to-face, online and blended classes.  In a lot of ways, orientation videos offer a “magic pill” that can cure a lot of the ills that students encounter when navigating online spaces.


Taylor, J. M. (2015). Innovative Orientation leads to Improved Success in Online Courses. Online Learning Journal, 19(4).

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