The Online Environment – What contributes to satisfaction and learning?

The State University of New York has one of the largest ongoing studies of college-level student attitudes, with over 8,000 students surveyed over a five-year period. Variables that significantly correlated with high levels of satisfaction and perceived learning included: the quantity and quality of interactions with the instructor and classmates, prompt and constructive instructor feedback, and clear course expectations and assignment instructions. [7]

This is supported by the 2015-2016 Noel-Levitz study cited earlier. In that study, three items are consistently noted as challenges for online learners: quality of instruction, faculty responsiveness to student needs, and timely feedback from faculty. The study noted: “These items have been cited as national challenges for the last several years” (p. 7).

In addition, the Department of Education meta-analysis found that online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control over their interactions and prompting learner reflection. “The meta-analysis findings do not support simply putting an existing course online,” noted the Department of Education report authors, “but they do support redesigning instruction to incorporate additional learning opportunities online” (p. 51). [5]

These studies found that it is not the medium, but rather the efforts of the instructor, the time and thought invested in the pedagogy, and the intentional instructional design decisions that can make an online course more successful. Well-designed and well-taught online courses offer rich opportunities for interactive, collaborative, and reflective teaching and learning.


  1. Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., Poulin, R., & Straut, T. T. (2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States (Rep.). Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from
  2. Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2016). 2015-16 national online learners satisfaction and priorities report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz.
  3. No Significant Difference. Presented by WCET (2016, March 14. Retrieved from
  4. Seaman, J. (2009). Online Learning as a Strategic Asset. Volume II: The Paradox of Faculty Voices–Views and Experiences with Online Learning. Results of a National Faculty Survey, Part of the Online Education Benchmarking Study Conducted by the APLU-Sloan National Commission on Online Learning. Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
  5. Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. US Department of Education
  6. Noel-Levitz (2014). 2015-2016 national online learners priorities report. Coralville, IA.
  7. Shea, P., Swan, K., Fredericksen, E., and Pickett, A. (2001). Student satisfaction and reported learning in the SUNY learning network: Interaction and beyond – social presence in asynchronous learning networks. In Bourne, J., and Moore, J. (Eds.), Elements of Quality Online Education. (pp.145-56). Needham, MA: Sloan Center for Online Education. Retrieved from