The expectations of "netiquette," the term used to describe acceptable communication with others over the internet, has been identified as one of the most defining features separating experienced online students from their novice counterparts.
In a recent study, 3,160 online students were surveyed to examine the impact of past experiences with online education on their perceptions of course quality. The purpose of the paper published in Online Learning and authored by Emily Hixon and Casimir Barczyk of Purdue University Camulet, Penny Ralston-Berg of Penn State World Campus and Janet Buckenmeyer if Armstrong University, was to understand how students with varying levels of experience with online learning perceive the quality of their courses.
Respondents to the study were divided into three different categories with experienced students having previously completed 7 or more online courses, intermediate students having completed four to six courses online and novice students having completed three or fewer courses.
Females made up a majority of the participants, with 1,813 responding to the survey. 834 were male and 512 respondents did not specify their gender. The respondents were aged between 18 and 65 years of age, with the largest group of respondents being age between 26 and 44. The authors indicate that the majority of survey respondents were in full-time employment while also studying part-time.
The authors utilized a faculty-centred tool to assess student perception of online course quality called Quality Matters and focused on eight standards in the 2008-2011 QM rubric including learning objectives, instructional materials, learner interaction and more.
The authors concluded that online learning experiences differ due to perceptions of:
"â¦ online course quality based on a student's level of previous online course experience. Perceptions of course quality were influenced by the extent to which students were experienced, intermediate, or novice online learners. For the most part, experienced online learners had the greatest needs and expectations of their instructors for course quality. They understood that performing optimally required that their courses had to be designed well and presented in a logical, consistent, and efficient manner. Novice online learners indicated that it was important for their courses and instructors to address clearly and early in the course matters related to proper netiquette."
The authors also conclude that to retain online students, online courses should reflect the quality of courses undertaken in a classroom as online courses retain fewer students compared to traditional face-to-face courses.
Much work has been done on course quality, and there are numerous regulations and manufacturing designs governing the structure of online courses. However, it is also crucial to examine and understand the student perspective of online learning to provide adequate materials and resources for this heterogeneous group.
This is especially significant for the future success of online learning as the medium, in 2013, comprised a third of all enrollments, write the authors.
Overall, experienced learners indicated that defined online interaction guidelines are important to course satisfaction, while their novice counterparts feel it is important to address netiquette issues.
Other elements important to online students based on perception of quality included screen readability, student introductions, having necessary technological tools, and navigability.