Online Instruction in Higher Education: Promising, Research-based, and Evidence-based Practices

Alison S. Lockman

Waldenu University, United States.

Barbara R. Schirmer

Waldenu University, United States.


Keywords: Online learning, Higher education, Blended instruction, College students, Hybrid instruction, Virtual learning.


The purpose of this study was to review the research literature on online learning to identify effective instructional practices. We narrowed our scope to empirical studies published 2013-2019 given that studies earlier than 2013 had become quickly outdated because of changes in online pedagogies and technologies. We also limited our search to studies with undergraduate and graduate students, application of an empirical methodological design, and descriptions of methodology, data analysis, and results with sufficient detail to assure verifiability of data collection and analysis. Our analysis of the patterns and trends in the corpus of 104 research studies led to identification of five themes: course design factors, student support, faculty pedagogy, student engagement, and student success factors. Most of the strategies with promising effectiveness in the online environment are the same ones that are considered to be effective in face-to-face classrooms including the use of multiple pedagogies and learning resources to address different student learning needs, high instructor presence, quality of faculty-student interaction, academic support outside of class, and promotion of classroom cohesion and trust. Unique to the online environment are user-friendly technology tools, orientation to online instruction, opportunities for synchronous class sessions, and incorporation of social media. Given the few studies utilizing methodological designs from which claims of causality can be made or meta-analyses could be conducted, we identified only faculty feedback as an evidence-based practice and no specific intervention that we could identify as research-based in online instruction.


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