Follow AI

Higher Ed Impact

7 Ways Advisors Can More Effectively Engage Online Students

Share

This is the first in a series of features on academic advising contributed by Susan Ohrablo, a Doctoral Enrollment Counselor/Program Professor with the Abraham S. Fischler School of Education at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and a nationally recognized expert and frequent speaker at events for academic advisors.

We hope you will also consider these upcoming trainings for academic advisors:

Intrusive Advising to Improve Student Success
Academic Advising Records: Implications for Electronic Documentation
A System-Wide Approach to Advising for Retention
New Advisor Training: Developmental Advising via Email

by Susan Ohrablo (Nova Southeastern University)

Online students are at significant risk for attrition as they experience isolation and a sense of disconnect from the institution, as well as find themselves lacking resources and information. Advisors can greatly impact students’ perceptions of their online experience by providing ongoing support and information to students.

Advising online students can be challenging, however, as academic advisors are responsible for providing quality advising to students they may never meet, relying on phone and electronic communication as an alternative to face-to-face advising. Advisors who have traditionally worked with students in a face-to-face environment may experience frustration, dissatisfaction, and a lack of connection with the students with whom they work. Advisors run the risk of eliminating critical, comprehensive developmental advising strategies as they attempt to manage a seemingly unmanageable amount of emails and phone calls.

It's important for advisors to remember that online is not a type of student, rather, it is a mode of delivery for academic coursework.

Students study online for a variety of reasons, including geographical limitations, learning style, work, and personal commitments. The needs of these students are no different from those of any other students, although students in an online environment often perceive a sense of isolation, a lack of structure and support, and lack of information.

7 Strategies for Engaging Online Students

Here is how academic advisors can make a difference:

  1. Include in every call and email a greeting that humanizes you and makes the student feel cared for. “It’s great to hear from you,” or “I hope that the semester is going well for you” are simple phrases that can make a student feel connected.
  2. Replicate face-to-face advising whenever possible. Insert your picture in your email’s signature line. Call students whenever possible. Take advantage of videoconferencing products to deliver individual and group advising. These types of efforts will let students know that distance is not an obstacle for them.
  3. Provide the student links to resources but avoid information overload. Don’t try to replicate the catalog or website. Provide developmentally appropriate resources that answer the students’ questions while providing information you anticipate they’ll need.
  4. Help students navigate the institution’s systems. While an on-campus student has the ability to walk to the one-stop student success center to register, pay her bill, and ask questions, an online student may have to be transferred 3-4 times to get the same assistance. Helping students know exactly who to call and what to ask can help reduce their frustration. Making calls on behalf of students is another excellent way to show you care and provide them with the information they need.
  5. Proactively outreach to students via calls and emails. Provide them useful information and offer assistance, but be careful not to overwhelm them. Too many emails with too much information will eventually be ignored. The students must feel that these communications are relevant to their needs.
  6. Provide an anchor for students. By encouraging them to contact you with any questions they may have, you will quickly develop a productive partnership. Even if you need to refer the student to another department, you will increase your opportunities to connect and address other issues which the student may have.  Resist thoughts such as “It’s not my job.”
  7. To provide students structure and control, facilitate a sense of shared responsibility. Informing students of your action plan, “I will check on your application and call you back” and assigning students responsibility, “Please let me know when you’ve sent the transcript and I’ll update your records” provide the structure that online students often perceive to be lacking.

By employing these strategies, advisors will find that they can successfully engage students and develop positive and effective advising relationships. The outcome of these relationships will be an increased sense of satisfaction on the part of both student and advisor, and will positively contribute to online student retention.

LEARN MORE: GET FREE TRAININGS WITH AI PRO

We want to take a moment to thank you for reading our publication, and let you know about AI Pro, our new membership service that includes free access to 50 recent online trainings for student affairs professionals, as well as many upcoming trainings! Membership also includes a discount on registrations for AI conferences. It's a great way to train your entire team for less. We hope you'll find out more here.

Read More ArticlesSubscribeBack to Top

About the Authors

Susan Ohrablo, Ed.D.

Sue is a nationally recognized speaker in the areas of academic advising and student services. Her presentations blend theory and practice, and include real-world scenarios for professionals to apply as they work to support students. Sue’s areas of expertise include comprehensive developmental advising, student engagement, advising adult and online students, effective email advising, and electronic documentation.

Sue has over twenty-five years of experience in higher education administration, working in public and private institutions and with diverse student populations ranging from freshman to doctoral level students. She has held positions as director of academic advising, academic advisor, personal counselor, career counselor, and employment specialist. Sue currently works as a doctoral enrollment counselor /academic advisor in the Fischler School of Education at Nova Southeastern University. 

Other AI contributions: