How to Ensure Your Students are Keeping Up with Your Online Course

graphic of person on laptop in converation
GradingOnline LearningStudent Success
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Elyse Adler is an Assistant Professor of Information Technology


With the number of students enrolled in online learning increasing, it’s important that instructors understand the differences we face in keeping our students engaged and focused on learning online verses in a face-to-face setting.

The majority of online learning is taking place asynchronously, so we have to ensure students are keeping up with the work we’re assigning, and not waiting until the last minute to complete assignments.

There are several factors that play into why students might fall behind. Luckily, there are also numerous things we can do, as faculty, to help them keep pace with the course. Here are a few tips I have found to be very helpful for keeping my students on pace:

Have an Organized Course with Clear Due Dates

Organizing your course into weeks or modules helps break the work into manageable chucks for students. This allows you to have a select set of objectives for the unit with clearly defined outcomes. By setting clear due dates for all assignments, you’re able to help your students manage their time and energy according to the tasks for that week/module, rather than being overwhelmed by all that needs to be accomplished within the entire course.

Provide Regular, Timely Feedback

Have a policy for how long it will take you to provide feedback on work and stick to it! You may need to provide more in-depth feedback on assignments than you’re used to giving in face-to-face learning. Plus, the written feedback on assignments may be the only direct input from you that they receive on their learning in the course. Students need to know that you’re reviewing their work and are also engaged in the course.

Make sure that you’re answering emails in a timely fashion. Since learning is taking place asynchronously, you will receive communication from students at all hours of the day/week. Don’t make students wait too long to hear back from you. They may be waiting for your input before they can move on with their work for the course.

Build a Sense of Camaraderie and Community Within the Course

Students can feel alone in the online learning environment, where they lack the opportunity to interact with their peers and instructor. Have a place where students can connect with each other in the course. A “Community Forum” on a discussion board is a great place for this to occur. Being able to connect with other students can help students stay motivated in the course and can provide a place where collaboration and discussion can take place.

Be Accessible and Involved in the Course

You don’t need to participate in every conversation on a discussion board, but be sure you’re monitoring the boards and commenting when necessary to keep the class on track. It’s also a good practice for you to connect with each student individually throughout the course. You might opt to do this via an email, a phone call or a response to a discussion board post.

However you reach out, use it as an opportunity to connect with the student on a personal/individual level. Make sure students know they can reach out to you anytime for assistance via your preferred communication method—and that you will do whatever you can to assist them.

Reach out to Struggling Students

As soon as you see a student start to fall behind, it’s important to reach out early and often. Sometimes all a student needs when they are behind is a little motivation from the instructor. Advising students on how they can get back on track and manage their time in the course can put them back on the road to success.

Online learning can be easy for some students (and faculty!) and more challenging for others. Make sure you know who to reach out to on campus if you or your students have technical issues. Be aware of what forms of tutoring are available for your students in your subject area and post those options within your course.

With a little bit of planning and solid communication, you can help your students stay on pace in your course and finish successfully!

For additional online teaching tips, expert insights on learning science and more, explore our faculty professional development resources.