Supportive learning environments are very important. With an increasing diversity of students these environments need to accomodate various needs and various learning styles. This is true for online education, as well as blended learning environments and campus courses. In my perspective running a blended learning module support in the online world has posed some specific problems that I’ve yet to solve. More on that below.
Support could be many things. I would foremost think of support as the availability of on demand feedback in relation to intended outcomes (10.1037/0033-295X.100.3.363). Online, that could mean immediate automated feedback on online quizes (24003913), a route to a mentor, tutor, facilitator when topics are difficult to understand – could be by means of (e-mail) or instant messaging och video calls. The latter is much more time consuming than predefined quiz feedback. Supplementary to that, at least in blended learning, the physical availability of the teacher is valuable so that students can engage in short face to face meetings either for cognitive support and to reassurance or for support in psychomotor skills training (24458338).
Similar support could also be obtained from peers during video-conferences, discussion forums, chats or by formal student-led teaching. Such support seems to function well for learning both for the student “learner” and the student “teacher” (10.2147/AMEP.S14383).
An entirely different kind of supportive environment relates to support in operating the digital tools necessary for engagement in the learning environment. This includes support in setting up tools in one’s own computer in the initial phase of a course or possible also in the pre-admission phase. This requires that the course organizer or individual facilitator collects enough information about and from the new learner on skills (digital litteracy) as well as providing information on prerequisites. During a course such support could include technical support from facilitators participating in video-meetings, by providing instructional videos or even simple FAQ boards.
A third kind is the support needed for dysfunctional online groups. This requires careful monitoring of activities and I would suppose that efficient routines need to be set up to prevent excess in instructor workload.
Finally support also need to be targeted towards specific individual needs such as vision disorders where specific measures are needed. A good webpage on how this can be done is found on American Foundation for the Blind webpage. Screen readers labelling images and typefont sizes are options among others. Color blinds would have difficulties collaborating on shared documents if color is used to identify individual contributors.
In conclusion a supportive environment is a very multifaceted construct where several pieces of the puzzle need to fall in place.