What Is The Best Technology To Adopt Student Success Research Fast And Effectively?

By Cristian Duque
February 14, 2020

The old debate between online versus face-to-face learning makes less sense with each passing day. Multiple studies have concluded “no significant difference” between online technology and traditional, classroom-based approaches to learning. (All the research referenced is listed at the end of this article.) While a great deal of nuance lies in the execution of digital learning initiatives, online technology can be as effective as face-to-face or traditional learning methods when it comes to student success.

This article first appeared in LMSPulse

The focus now should move towards identifying the learning strategies that are the most effective, given the sprawling set of available tools.

Few of them, however, are no longer optional. There is no better example of it than Learning Management Systems (LMS).

In a growing number of institutions, and practically all higher ed, learning is facilitated by an instructor via an LMS. When instructors are involved in the learning process, they they play a more critical to the learning success. It would seem reasonable to associate this active role with face-to-face interactions. But there is no reason to believe that just because a teacher is in front of their students they will be more attentive than if they were teaching remotely, especially if they have access to a dashboard that provides access to the students’ “vitals.”

The latest trend in student success research: ‘Immediacy’

Academic researchers have correlated instructor engagement with “immediacy,” or the set of behaviors that reduce the psychological reaction between a lesson and its application. As it turns out, learning immediacy is a prosperous line of study for student success, as defined by either student satisfaction, higher achievement, or both.

Recent work has been done on the characteristics and shapes of learning immediacy, both from the teachers’ and the students’ perspectives. The most common form is verbal immediacy. The following are some examples of ideal parts of the conversation where immediacy could play a role.

Asking questions

A conversation is an opportunity for everyone to socialize, exchange information and ask and answer questions in more assertive ways. This happens naturally, but what recent research reveals is that purposeful, directed communication practices can enhance the overall student-tutor relationship.


In a related vein, a distance learning experience in Saudi Arabia suggests that, by acknowledging the components and outcomes of verbal immediacy to ensure they remain in practice on the online space, many of the qualitative elements thought to be unique to the face-to-face experience can either remain present, or not be missed.

Interactions and use of personal pronouns

Verbal immediacy can also be seen as a testing ground for soft skills. In this experiment, deliberate and consistent use of names and active voice can show effects on educational attainment and long-run outcomes.

A woman sits at a desk laughing holding a tablet.
Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.

Self-disclosure opportunities

One field deserving of more respect and attention among educational technologists is ethnography. Fortunately, the research on immediacy increasingly can welcome rigorous, qualitative approaches. Case in point, this virtual ethnography exercise at a Mexican university. It highlights the value of personal storytelling as input for user experience design.

Attending student requests

An unexpected ability of qualitative research into immediacy is the unique way in which it can highlight biases of more quantitative approaches to educational research. Among other things, there seems to be a fundamental misconception on the ability of qualitative immediacy research to inform the effectiveness of teaching practices. Fortunately, comprehensive works such as this one are a testament in its favor.

Addressing students directly

It also does not mean that interventions need a lot of preparation or custom development. Malaysian researchers focusing on “asynchronous computer-mediated communication” found a powerful ally in one of the most elementary and pervasive computational technologies: email. Given its unrelenting popularity, it is surprising that this kind of research on the efficacy of email communication is not more widespread.

Repeated student contact

Another lesson that is commonly lost among quantitative-only research is the lack of cultural context, or “maximizing” assumptions, i.e. believing that more of something good is always better. (Perhaps due to the excessive emphasis on linear regressions.) As a result, we are surprised when we see research showing that more frequent contact is not always better, and that the rate varies according to the student background.

Enhancing immediacy with state-of-the-art learning technology

Once again, it would seem verbal immediacy would favor direct face-to-face interactions. You only have to look a little deeper to realize how a thoughtfully crafted interface can provide teachers powerful tools not just to enhance its immediacy, but to measure its effectiveness and even possibly make decisions about the most effective practices worth pursuing and investing in.

Visual cues in the online environment such as color, graphics, and the instructor’s picture enhance the perceived immediacy and signal expressiveness, accessibility, engagement, and politeness.

An essential element, perhaps not the same as but closely related to immediacy is the concept of presence. It is widely accepted that instructors teaching online must be felt as “seen” by students, to perceive them as present in the learning environment. In order to establish their presence online, technologies can assist instructors so they can develop consistent patterns of interaction, provide feedback, and moderate online classroom forums.

Optimize immediacy and presence: It’s all about data

The activities that instructors engage with in the learning management system are data points within the data tables. Determining where, when, what, and how long an instructor has spent in the LMS, the course, or the activity can be detailed with numerous reports and analytics that allow for identification of an overall picture of “instructor engagement.”

Resources & References

Featured Image: Brickclay, iStock