Understanding the user in online education

Wilson, Ryan
Major Professor
Debra Satterfield
Anson Call
Committee Member
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Online education is an important part of the modern higher education system. For universities, online education means being able to increase enrollment, supporting students who would not normally be able to attend campus for reasons such as employment, family, etc. For online students, online education allows for a flexibility in their education that was not possible before the invention of online education. Students taking online classes can benefit from time shifting their education, allowing for them to take classes when external conflicts would typically not allow them to meet at a specified time. Students living at a distance from campus benefit from spacial shifting, allowing them to be in a different location than a physical classroom.

To continue to improve the quality and effectiveness of online education, it is important to define and understand who the “user” is in online eduction. This user group can be defined as, the primary audience is students who take a majority of their courses online, either at a distance or while living on campus. The secondary audience is defined as faculty, educators, and support staff working to create and present online classes.

A survey was conducted of students 18 years of age or older who have taken an online course for credit within the last three years. We will examine this data and build personas representing the online education user and the user’s current needs, future needs, and challenges with online education. A recursive method of reviewing the needs of the users in online education would allow for more frequent modifications in a online education. Additionally, an assessment tool can be developed to regularly capture the needs of the user.

By understanding the users, effective changes in online education can be instituted to increase the experience for those users. By basing these changes on the needs of the user, universities would benefit from increased enrollment as well as a higher quality of education being offered to online students.