In a review of contemporary literature, research revealed that students believe they are unable to connect with their instructors in online classrooms (Hughes, Ventura, & Dando, 2007; Stichter, Lewis, Richter, Johnson, & Bradley, 2006). A general problem exists because faculty, administrators, curriculum designers, and student advisors in institutions that offer online programs do not adequately address the social and psychological connectivity needs of students (DeShields, Kara, & Kaynak, 2005). This lack of attention to the social and affective needs has a negative effect on learner satisfaction and retention (Bonk, 2002; Melrose & Bergeron, 2006; Moody, 2004; Simpson, 2004; Slagter van Tryon & Bishop, 2006). Swanson, A., Hutkin, R., Babb, D., & Howell, S. (2010, Sep). Establishing the best practices for social interaction and e-connectivity in online higher education classes. Doctoral dissertation, University of Phoenix, Arizona. Publication Number: 3525517. Retrieved from http://gradworks.umi.com/3525517.pdf
The delivery of online courses is higher education’s response to the global growth in the economy (Adams, 2008; Friedman, 2005). Since 1990, an increase in post-secondary distance learning occurred (Allen & Seamen, 2006). Institutions of higher education experienced growth in the online learning field (Allen & Seaman, 2006; Khare & Lam, 2008; Li & Irby, 2008; Simonsen, 2006). With the continued expansion, post-secondary schools are researching the possibilities of offering online programs if the schools have not already started a distance education program (Turner & Crews, 2005). Moskal, Dziuban, Upchurch, Hartman, and Truman (2006) proposed that although distance education adds value, students are often less successful and have a higher dropout rate than in traditional schools. Although online education is experiencing a continued expansion, an omission of social interaction in distance learning, web-based courses as compared to face-to-face traditional classroom courses exists (Kanuka & Anderson, 1998; Shank, 2004; Slagter van Tryon & Bishop, 2006; Walls, 2005). Slagter van Tryon and Bishop (2006) conducted a Delphi-method study, which identified that online instructors do not achieve a social connection (e-connectivity) with their students. Using online experts, Slagter van Tryon and Bishop gathered data and synthesized the information to present strategies addressing the lack of social interaction or e-connectivity in an online classroom. The role of the instructor has evolved through technological advances (Borstorff & Lowe, 2007). The instructors impart their knowledge to their students (Lee & Busch, 2005). The learning platform has changed greatly, evolving from teaching through correspondence courses to offering courses asynchronously over the Internet. The learning platform will continue to change through the advances of technology (Bellack, 2008; Borstorff & Lowe, 2007; Smedberg, 2004). The curriculum has evolved through the years. The students have not changed; however, each student has a different learning style (Mupinga, Nora, & Yaw, 2006). Distance education faculty and administrators do not consider the social and psychological needs of each student’s learning styles (Fearing & Riley, 2005). In the online learning environment, students may not have their social and psychological needs met. Sitzman and Lenars (2006) stated that a successful online learning experience would encompass an empathetic instructor who is sensitive to personal issues and has a connection to the student. Sometimes the negative perception of the online instructor may hinder the learning experience and negate the quality of the course delivery (Wilkes, Simon, & Brooks, 2006). A successful online class design will meet the learner’s needs both technologically and socially with an assessment of student learning styles (Dupin-Bryant & DuCharme-Hansen, 2005). Students who function successfully in traditional classrooms may not succeed in asynchronous web-based learning (Bell, 2007). In the distance-learning realm, forgotten are the social and psychological aspects of education (Guri-Rosenbilt, 2005). Simonsen (2008) emphasized the importance of presenting the course materials through different methods. Palloff and Pratt (1999) stated the most important aspects of education are social. Martinez (2003) stated that course designers might consider students' personalities when designing online classrooms. Students interact with other students and their instructor in the traditional classroom through pedagogical and social interaction (Thompson & Ku, 2006). When managing a traditional classroom developing a relationship between the instructor and student(s) permits genuine academic growth (Brown, 2005). Not only may the content of the curriculum be authentic and rich with learning materials, sufficient collaboration, and e-connectivity for the students may exist (Calvert, 2005). By not connecting with the social and psychological needs of distance learning students, a negative effect on retention may occur because of students believing they are out of touch or unable to connect (e-connectivity) with their instructors. Wilkes et al. (2006) stated that students and instructors do not communicate effectively in the asynchronous classroom. The lack of engaging the social and psychological needs of distance learners, negatively affects the dropout rate of online students. Slagter van Tryon and Bishop (2006) stated that the attrition rate in the online classroom is at least 40% higher than a traditional classroom. Some institutions have forced interaction by requiring faculty members to conduct synchronized chats or lectures and host mandatory office hours. Although an emphasis on any time, any place education continues, studying how distance educators can better achieve social connectivity in the online classroom is important. Perhaps a blend between asynchronous and synchronous classroom environment may exist (Klein, 2007; Wijekumar & Spielvogel, 2006).