The Four Cs of Online Education

36302079_sA school’s role is complex and constantly developing. What began as means through which to teach a trade evolved into a forum through which to impart knowledge. Today’s classrooms go beyond these original objectives and are intended to “prepare all students to be active participants in our exciting global community” (Kolk 2011). This new classroom goal is often summarized in “The Four Cs” – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. A successful teacher will be sure to incorporate these themes into his lessons and classroom design.

However, the Four Cs play a slightly different role in an online course. Not only will students who nurture these skills be equipped to tackle today’s changing society, students who use these strategies in online courses are likely to succeed in a positive, stress-free environment. Check out the tips below to learn how to integrate the Four Cs into your online classroom.

Communication: Both the instructor and students play a significant role in effectively communicating in an online course. Instructors should be careful to create an intuitive course structure, write clear instructions, and effectively communicate their expectations. Students should pay special attention to the syllabus, all announcements, and discussion boards (Johnson 2015).

Commitment: An online course is often more work than a traditional one, not less. Therefore, due to the coupling of hours of school work with unstructured time in which to complete it, online students need to be very self-disciplined and organized in order to do well. Before a course begins, it is wise for students to allocate a proper amount of time each week in which to complete all readings and assignments as well as set aside a fixed location in which to do all schoolwork. Click here to learn more about what it takes to be an online student.

Community: Once again, both the instructors and students contribute to creating a strong sense of community in an online class. Instructors should portray themselves as a personable individual (instead of just a name on a screen) and interact with students personally, as opposed to only sending out mass messages. Students can form a virtual community through interacting with their peers via discussion boards and seeking each other out when they need help with an assignment. These relationships remove feelings of isolation and can dramatically increase a student’s performance in an online course.

Collaboration: The goal of education is not to walk out with a degree; it is to walk out with an education. A crucial component of the learning process to is to interact with learned thoughts and ideas and apply the sometimes intangible concepts. Collaboration is important in an online classroom because it facilitates this aspect of learning. Online students should work with their classmates to hone their critical thinking and analysis as well as to engage in active learning through teaching the information and receiving feedback.

How do you integrate the Four Cs into your online classroom?


The 21st Century Classroom – Where the 3 Rs Meet the 4Cs! by Melinda Kolk on

Four Cs of Success in the Online Classroom by Ronald Johnson and Katherine Riddle on

Understand the Commitment Involved with Online Education on

Learner Interactivity in a Synchronous Classroom

In this interesting presentation, Claudia Dornbusch of demonstrates how to promote learner interactivity in a synchronous classroom. Topics include maximizing visual and whiteboard potential, chat and breakout sessions, and polls and audio discussions.

While these suggestions are intended for employee training sessions, the concepts can be implemented in higher level higher education as well.


E-learning: How to deliver an engaging Virtual Classroom presentation by Claudia Dornbusch


5 Effective Ways to Communicate Expectations Online

Effective communication road signsStudents want to succeed. They want to manage their time well, learn new information, and submit assignments on time. Each online course is structured differently, so at the beginning of the semester, students try to understand what each professor expects of them.

Sometimes, it is more difficult to communicate expectations in an online course. But it is crucial that the professors and students all be on the same page to have an enjoyable learning experience together.

Here are five tips to clearly communicate expectations to students and, in doing so, enhance an online course:

  1. Maximize the syllabus. Each Learning Management System (LMS) has various ways to organize information. In the syllabus, inform students under which categories they can find different assignments or resources.
  1. Make a routine. Students often feel more comfortable if they know what to expect. Just like each class period in a traditional classroom usually follows a certain pattern, it is ideal if each week or module in an online course has a routine as well.
  1. Post instructions. Even if an assignment seems self-explanatory or identical to a previous one, post instructions. This technique will clarify the assignment, mimic a traditional classroom, and put students at ease because they will know what their professor expects of them.
  1. Offer clarification. Make it clear to students that they should ask for clarification if an aspect of the assignment seems vague. Be sure to respond in a timely fashion and address the student’s concerns.
  1. Provide Feedback. Whether negative or positive, beneficial or neutral, tell students what you think of their work. In a traditional classroom, students receive verbal, non-verbal, and written feedback from their responses to questions, classroom comments, and submitted assignments. Since students are looking for these cues, be sure to provide them so that they can improve.

Do you have any other online communication tips?

Using the Explain Everything iPad App to Give Feedback on Student Work

Explain Everything app logo

Explain Everything is a powerful iPad app that provides an interactive whiteboard for creating screencast presentations.

With the Explain Everything app, you can import documents, pictures, videos, sound files, or browser windows to your project, and then add drawings annotations, animations, or voiceover narrations. The final project can then be recorded and shared with other people.

Here are 4 examples of how instructors can use the Explain Everything App to provide feedback on student work:

  1. In this video, Mark Anderson goes through many of the tools included in the Explain Everything app. At 4:00 in the video, Mark starts to explains how you can use ExplainEverything for feedback, and the sample feedback itself begins at 6:20.

  2. Jon Tait demonstrates how he provides feedback on a student’s work using Explain Everything.

  3. T. Wood gives descriptive feedback on how a student attempted to solve a math problem. At 2:54, he gives handwritten feedback, and at 3:51 he gives the feedback in the form of an audio narration, together with Explain Everything’s laser pointer tool.

  4. Janet Neyer gives audiovisual feedback on her student’s paper.

Learn more about the Explain Everything app by watching these video tutorials.

* The Explain Everything logo is the sole and exclusive property of MorrisCooke.

Which Factors Contribute Most to Student Satisfaction in Online Education Settings?


What is the best way to design online courses so as to maximize student satisfaction?

A Predictive Study of Student Satisfaction in Online Education Programs investigated 5 factors of online courses to ascertain which ones are the strongest predictors of student satisfaction in online settings.

The article was published in The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning and conducted by Yu-Chun Kuo, Andrew E. Walker, Brian R. Belland, and Kerstin E. E. Schroder.

In this study, researchers distributed an online survey to 291 students enrolled in any of 11 summer-session online courses, of which 111 students responded. Most students were between 26-35 years old.

Researchers found that the strongest predictor of student satisfaction was learner-content interaction, defined as the process through which learners reflect and elaborate on the course material.

How can professors increase learner-content interaction? The researchers suggest:

Inclusion of tasks that involve collaboration and searching online resources may help enhance learners’ interaction with content. For instance, problem-based learning would encourage online learners to apply their information search skills to resolve authentic problems, which in turn increases learners’ interaction with the content as well as their problem solving skills (An & Reigeluth, 2008).

In other words, the more that students are encouraged to think about the material and process it in different ways, the more they will value and appreciate the course.

Two other factors found to be significant predictors of student satisfaction were learner-instructor interaction and internet self-efficacy (an individual’s confidence in his ability to carry out internet related tasks). Professors can increase the former by incorporating flexibility into the course setup. Universities can support the latter by proving internet training to students prior to their enrollment in online courses.

Factors found to have a negligible effect on student satisfaction were learner-learner interaction (communication among peers regarding the course material) and self-regulated learning (motivation and learning strategies that students use to achieve their educational goals). That said, the researchers did indicate that these factors may in fact be quite significant for student satisfaction, even though this particular study did not show it.

Which factors do you think contribute most to student satisfaction in online courses? Share your thoughts with us and let us know how you intend to increase student satisfaction in your online courses.

10 Tips for Making Personal Connections With Students in Online Courses

In the absence of face-to-face interactions, how can professors of online courses develop relationships with their students?

Implement these 10 tips to generate a sense of personal connection with your students:

  1. Post a short biography of yourself at the beginning of the course so that students have a sense of who you are. Talk about your background, education, interests, and include a photo.
  2. Create an introductory discussion board where each student can post something about themselves – their background, interests, job history, educational goals, personal goals, or anything else they’re like you and their peers to know. Respond to students’ posts, and encourage all students to respond to their peers as well.
  3. Better yet – request that all students create a quick personal moodboard. There are several free online moodboard creation tools such as and Glogster.
  4. Take note of students’ interests and incorporate them into class discussions. For example, if your are teaching a course about economics, and know that one of your students is the manager of his own small business, create a discussion thread in which you ask that student to write about his marketing techniques and let the other students comment with their thoughts and input.
  5. Instead of posting your weekly announcements as text, post video announcements recorded with a webcam. Being able to watch a video of their professor on screen helps students feel a stronger sense of connection.
  6. Respond to students’ posts on weekly discussion boards as much as possible so that students know you’re listening and interested in their thoughts.
  7. Create assignemnts that allow students to share their personal thoughts and experiences. In essay questions or discussion board threads, ask students questions such: When have you seen the concept of XYZ played out in your own life? Where have you seen this phenomenon occur in your own community?
  8. If you notice a particular student who is not completing his or her assignments, don’t be afraid to reach out and send them an email asking if everything’s okay or if you can help them in any way.
  9. Make a list of all your students and keep track of when you made personal contact with them. Jot down the date and method of contact – email, discussion board, phone call, etc. Keeping track of all your students will ensure that no one falls through the cracks.
  10. Consider splitting large classes into smaller classes to allow for more individualized attention and a sense of community.