Are We Being Left to the Wolves? A Closer Look at Online Support

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I recently read Professor Mary Thorpe’s article from 2002 on Rethinking Learner Support: the challenge of collaborative online learning. Thorpe is the former Director of the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University. The Open University was incepted in the 1960’s and provided university level distance education that didn’t require prerequisites for attendance. This all sounds great in theory, but it also presents a need to support students at all levels for both course content and technological needs (Thorpe 110). Thorpe discusses providing personalized support and I completely agree that understanding the specific needs of the person you’re supporting are crucial in producing a positive support experience.

In adult education I have experienced first-hand that the support can be an afterthought by senior management and that getting the program launched so it can produce ROI is paramount. The problem with this is that a bad experience with elearning product support will cause hesitancy for the learner to look to this source for future education. The course materials may be top notch, but if the registration and technological support experience was poor it will can overshadow the course content.  Also, word spreads fast so if one had a bad experience they’ll have no problem telling their friends. Regardless if the other learners would require support that would also produce a support issue the bad experience is already in their mind.

In some ways I think that support for online interactions has gotten worse primarily at the corporate level. Many companies providing education on their products or services have faltered greatly in by providing sub-par services that have been sent off-shore. Additionally, many use FAQs and key word searches in order to try and avoid transitioning the user to the less then quality “live” support it will be providing. I think all online support, not just in academia, needs to re-evaluate support needs and put the end-user first. Can you remember a really bad support experience you had? I’m sure there’s at least one that you’ll never forget!

Thorpe, M. (2002). Rethinking Learner Support: the challenge of collaborative online learning

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