Learner Needs

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Assess where your students are, and take advantage of the online environment to meet their needs.

The flexibility of online courses uniquely positions you to address a wide variety of students with different needs and learning styles. Involve your students in this process through the use of polls, surveys, and journal entries, and make them more responsible for their own learning.


Learners will...

  • Understand the importance of assessing student needs early on in their course.
  • Review some issues that can arise in an online teaching environment.

Main Concepts

The students that take online courses can, and do, come from a wide range of very diverse populations. It is fairly commonplace to have students from different cultures, different life experiences, and even different time zones. Take the time to get to know your students.

In addition, students often come from a variety of academic backgrounds. It is never safe to assume that you are only working with students who are strictly attending K-State. Testing for prior knowledge, especially if your course has prerequisites, can be very helpful for you early on in the semester.


Even with the variety of unique students that do take online courses, there are some situations that are fairly common that you may want to be prepared for. Some of the following situations may need to be addressed prior to delivery of your course.

  • Time zones

Students in online courses can come from all over the world. Typically, this is not a problem with asynchronous message boards and assignments. But, real-time conferencing with Wimba can be an issue. Never forget to archive and publish synchronous events for those who are unable to attend.

  • Diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds

The online environment can easily be a multicultural event. Get to know your students with icebreakers and other forms of learner interaction. If you do not take the time to get to know your students, it is very difficult to be sensitive to their needs.

  • Disabilities

Students with disabilities may not disclose their challenges. In many instances, students take online courses for the sake of remaining anonymous. Building an accessible course is essential to meet these needs. Also, make sure that all of your students are aware of the resources available to them.

  • Military service

Many online students at K-State are serving military duty. This can provide numerous scheduling and technology challenges. For those who are overseas, you may have to provide accommodations.

  • Inadequate prior knowledge

Not all students come prepared for what your course has to offer. A simple quiz to test prior knowledge can prepare you for the unprepared. The online environment also makes it easy to provide remediation and enrichment to help those who need some assistance with catching up to your expectations.

  • Technology

Do NOT assume your students are tech savvy. Provide instructions for what you intend for them to do online. Try to have low-stake activities for students to practice with the technology prior to assigning high-stake activities and projects.

Possible Pitfalls

  • Technology.
    Students will run into trouble with eID’s, K-State Online, internet browsers, computer viruses, connectivity, and hardware. Do NOT try to troubleshoot these problems yourself. Make sure that your students are aware of the IT Help Desk, the services it provides, and their responsibility for connecting with their online course.
  • Too much information.
    Some students may disclose too much about themselves online. Keep an eye out for this and gently nudge them back toward appropriate behavior with personal emails and/or phone calls. A good rule of thumb to give your class is “if you wouldn’t share that in a face-to-face class, don’t share it online.” Icebreakers should be personable, not personal.
  • Humor.
    The online environment makes interpreting humor unpredictable at best. Not everyone, or every culture, expresses humor the same way. Especially, be leery of sarcasm, as it often appears mean or cruel online.