graduate & online enrollment

Online Learning: Instruction Is an Opportunity for Improvement

Julie BryantVice President for Student SuccessOctober 26, 2023

Each year, RNL analyzes student satisfaction for institutions across the country. This review includes students at four-year private and public institution, two-year community colleges, along with students in graduate programs and online learners.

As we have observed consistently over the years, online learners tend to be among the most satisfied students overall. The 2023 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities results reflect the same trend. (These results are taken from the RNL Student Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys.)

Online learner overall satisfaction scores have been consistently high year over year, without any noticeable decline during the pandemic years.

Areas of strength

When we unpack the results to see where online learners are most satisfied, we learn that they are happiest with administrative support areas.

Top strengths rated for online learners Importance Satisfaction
Registration for online courses is convenient. 93% 83%
Billing and payment procedures are convenient for me. 89% 81%
My program advisor is accessible by telephone and email. 88% 80%
Adequate online library resources are provided. 88% 81%
N = 99,807 students from 153 institutions, Fall 2020-Spring 2023

The table above reflects the percentage of students who indicate that the item is important or very important to them and the percentage that say they are satisfied or very satisfied in this area. Items that have high importance and high satisfaction are identified as strengths. This tell us that institutions providing online programs are making it relatively easy for students to register, pay, be guided by advisors and to access resources to support their learning. Colleges and universities are meeting student expectations in these areas. If we think of the satisfaction percentages on a grading scale, institutions are getting solid Bs with the 80-83% satisfaction ratings.

Areas of challenge

The RNL approach is to understand both where institutions are performing well with the identified strengths and where there are the biggest opportunities for improvement. These challenge items are areas that are very important to students, but where satisfaction scores are lower, indicating that there is more room for improvement. For online learners, the items of greatest challenge are:

Top challenges rated for online learners Importance Satisfaction
The quality of online instruction is excellent. 93% 71%
Instructional materials are appropriate for program content. 93% 76%
Faculty are responsive to student needs. 93% 76%
Faculty provide timely feedback about student progress. 91% 72%
Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment. 90% 70%
N = 99,807 students from 153 institutions, Fall 2020-Spring 2023

As you will note in the table above, four out of five of the items are related to the students’ instructional experience, and the fifth item, “Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment,” could also be perceived as a reflection of the academic experience. Without the distractions of campus life, online learners are primarily focused on their interactions with faculty, the quality of the instruction and the appropriateness of the course materials. And while yes, 70% satisfaction can look positive, it can also be considered a grade of C, which is just average.

Opportunity for improvement

The number one opportunity for improvement for institutions serving online learners is to provide the very best academic experience. This includes faculty who are knowledgeable and comfortable with instructing in the environment of the online classroom. It also includes having courses that are designed to best communicate content through online structures. This means not just moving on-ground courses to online offerings but intentionally implementing instructional design to evaluate and develop the courses that are going to meet your students’ expectations.

Instructional Design Support

Webinar: Driving Enrollment Through World-Class Course Offerings

RNL can assist you in creating world-class online learning experiences that support student recruitment and retention. RNL Instructional Design solutions can help you strengthen existing courses or develop new ones at the undergraduate or graduate level.

  • Course Quality Audit—Enhance existing courses by evaluating opportunities to maximize enrollment and retention.
  • Course Optimizer—Elevate current courses to meet student expectations and enrollment goals.
  • Course Development—Create new courses to attract students and deliver world-class learning experiences.

Watch our webinar, Driving Enrollment Through World-Class Online Course Offerings, to learn more. Or reach out to talk with one of our instructional design experts for a complimentary consultation.

Elevate the online learning experience with expert instructional design

RNL’s Instructional Design team is made up of industry experts in education and technology. Talk with us about how you can develop new courses and optimize your current ones to transform your online course offerings into the best of the best.

Complimentary Consultation

About the Author

Julie Bryant

Julie L. Bryant, vice president for student success at RNL, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America in the area of satisfaction assessment. Julie is responsible for client service to more than 2,700 institutions...

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