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Learner Needs

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Last updated by Derek Wenmoth


Provide ongoing support for learners in this environment.


In order to meet the learner needs, the LCO will have set up structures to ensure support through all levels of participation. The crucial element to success in online learning is the support structures in the school. Schools should recognise that:

  • students’ online lessons require a higher priority that other school activities
  • students need to be encouraged to be active participants
  • student training needs to be provided at the earliest opportunity (technical, study, and self-management skills).

Where the learner accesses information and assistance will need to be a clear process from identification and enrolment through to completion of units or courses of learning. In secondary schools this might be by way of a distance learning coordinator, pathways or futures department in the school, an eDean, mentor teacher or support person - all ensuring that all learner needs are met. In school coordination should involve communication with all staff to ensure the learning process is visible across the school and contributing communities. At a cluster level the support process will be through regular updates and ongoing communication across the organisations involved with the learners. Regular reporting of progress will be a requirement for sustaining success for the learner and to ensure issues are addressed in a timely manner. There should be provisions made for student feedback.

The LCO will make full use of the resources and opportunities available through the wider network of communities online – these will be accessible through their joining the Virtual Learning Network communities (VLNC).


Ensure robust support processes are in place by providing:

  • Induction and training for students who are learning online for the first time.
  • Mechanisms for student feedback (eg survey, student meetings)
  • Opportunities for students to support each other through online forums and within schools
  • Information to students about how to access support
  • Guidelines to schools about student support such as the setting up of learning centres for supported study and the provision of mentor teachers
  • A clear process for reporting between schools and LCOs

Supporting Resources

Managing e-Learning Space: An Example from Roxburgh Area School

While most schools that participate in the VLN have space set aside for the students to participate in their video conferencing lessons, fewer schools have created a specific space for students to complete their asynchronous learning activities.


Figure 1. Video conferencing room at Kaitaia College (FarNet)


Figure 2. Video conferencing room at Coastal Taranaki School (TaraNet)

There are some schools that have set aside space for the students to use during their asynchronous learning time.



Figure 3. Learning centre at Roxburgh Area School (OtagoNet)

When asked to describe this space that had been created at Roxbugh Area School, the principal indicated:

We needed a place because when the students do a course through distance, quite often a component of their course is a face-to-face meeting with their teacher using the video conferencing, and that would be probably one out of four hours that the course is timed for and the other three need to be independent learning when their off using the computer, on the web and using e-mail and various other technologies that they need to carry on with their learning. So we had to find a way to make those other three hours effective. We tried various ways. We put them in the back of classrooms when other teachers were teaching. We put them together in one group or split them up around the school. Found that none of those were really successful. So we decided to develop a learning centre where we decided to put all of the kids in at one time and we also – along with that – decided we would look at a type of teacher called a mentor teacher, which would sit in with those students and keep an eye on them. Not just supervise them, but would actively help them with their work as well, help them connect with their distance providers, check how the assessments are going, check their engagement with their work and things. So, so the idea would be to have a full time teacher in there all of the time. The room itself is carpeted, its got comfortable chairs, its set-up with computers and its got drinking water there, it’s got access to sinks and things. And the expectation is that work is done in a quiet environment where everyone is expected to get on with their work. On challenging days it can have up to 15 to 20 students in there. Its not a big area, so that’s really crowded. So we are having a look at redeveloping that so we can make better use of it.

The re-development that the principal mentions is illustrated in this floor plan:


Figure 4. Floor plans for the redeveloped learning centre at Roxburgh Area School (OtagoNet)

It isn't expected or even suggested that all schools should create a separate learning centre as Roxburgh has done, schools who participate in the VLN need to consider an appropriate learning space for their students when they are scheduled for their distance learning, but not engaged in their video conferencing lesson.

Re-Considering Student Learning Space: Examples from the VLN

In this illustration, Wayne State University faculty member Michael Barbour describes the provision of a space for students to engaged in their asynchronous online activities, along with the school-based support for the supervision and soft learning skills of those students. His views are based upon a three month tour of New Zealand where he visited nine of the current and emerging e-learning clusters, interviewed dozens of cluster ePrincipals; school Principals and deputy Principals; eTeachers; eDeans, Coordinators, and Facilitators; and students, and observed several video conferencing lessons and tutorials in a variety of subject areas.

Notice how Michael talks about the decisions that the facilitator or supporting teaching is able to make in terms of students with differing abilities and how that might change the nature of support that the facilitator provides to those students.

Supporting e-Learning Students: An Example from OtagoNet

While VLN students are directly supervised by their online teacher during their video conferencing lessons, schools need to consider the nature and level of supervision and support provided to students when they are engaged in the asynchronous aspects of their VLN courses. If you consider the VLN environment, the image below provides a useful model.


Figure 1. The interaction of individuals in an online environment (Davis, 2007)

In the environment above, you have an online teacher located in one school. That online teacher may interact with the teacher who originally designed the online course and the majority of the content that is provided in the learning management system (although this can also be done by the online teacher in many instances). That online teacher is also likely to interact with the principal or deputy principal of their own school, along with the individual responsible for technical support in the school. Finally, that online teacher may have some students at their own school who are enrolled in the online course that they are teaching.

At other schools, you have students who are enrolled in that online teachers' course. These students interact with a school-based facilitator in their school, who is responsible for interacting with the school's administor, technical support, the students' parents, and even the online teacher. The school-based facilitator's role is often described as a mentoring and advocating role, where they are the local mentor and advocate for the students at their school. In addition, facilitators may also provide a number of supervision and administrative responsibilities. For example, one facilitator in the OtagoNet e-Learning cluster described her role as:

I am responsible for the work that comes in for the OtagoNet students. I’m responsible for them getting that work done, and then I’m responsible for getting that work sent back out to their teachers. I try to have regular e-mail contact with their teachers so we know what is going on. Then I am responsible for getting the exam papers and keeping those and giving them out at the right day that the eTeachers send. Also, I have to do a report for all of the OtagoNet reports, there is room for a comment from the facilitator, so I may have to put a comment down on how that student is working in the home school on that particular subject on that school report.

In addition to these supervision and administrative activities, there are also activities to help support the student and provide them with assistance to allow them to be successful. For example, that same OtagoNet facilitator described:

I have been to lots of agriculture video conference lessons because the type of students you get doing agriculture sometimes you cannot trust them to be taking notes, so I have been to lots of agriculture video conference lessons.

It is this support role, beyond the administrative and supervision responsibilities, that many schools fail to consider. Roblyer (2005) described the areas where online students needed the most support as falling into one of four areas:

  1. Organization and self-regulation – Successful online students are able to organize their time and regulate their own learning in the relatively unstructured environments of online courses. Although online teachers frequently build in checks and prompts to remind and encourage students to keep up with courses tasks, students who do best are already so organized and motivated that they need fewer or no such prompts.
  2. Beliefs about achievement – Studies indicate that students who do best online have a strong need to achieve and have confidence in their ability to tackle new topics and use new strategies. Online courses represent new and unfamiliar territory, but successful students are not intimidated by this novel setting.
  3. Responsibility – Successful online students seem to be those who realize that their success lies in their own hands. They also know that the source of failure is usually not the teacher, course organization, or other factors. They accept responsibility for finding ways to be successful. When they do less well than they had hoped, they seek out information to improve their performance. This ability relates to a quality sometimes referred to in the educational psychology literature as having "internal locus of control."
  4. Risk-taking – Communication in virtual environments is primarily written, and assigned tasks may have varying degrees of clarity. Students have to be willing to proceed in the midst of ambiguity and be prepared to do "course corrections" as needed. (¶ 6)

Schools should consider how to use staff freed of teaching duties because of the school's use of distance education or through the use of teacher's aids and other para-professionals to support online students.


Davis, N. E. (2007, November). Teacher education for virtual schools. A presentation at annual Virtual School Symposium, Louisville, KY. Retrieved from http://ctlt.iastate.edu/~tegivs/TEGIVS/publications/VS%20Symposium2007.pdf

Roblyer, M. D. (2005). Who plays well in the virtual sandbox? Characteristics of successful online students and teachers. SIGTel Bulletin, (2). Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20060930130650/http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Membership/SIGs/SIGTel_Telelearning_/SIGTel_Bulletin2/Archive/2005_20067/2005_July_-_Roblyer.htm