Communicating Success: The Effect of Prompt Feedback on Adult Learner Success in an Asynchronous, Online Resume Optimization Course

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Communicating Success Project Details:

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Client:

Western Governors University

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Tools Used:

Microsoft Word, Mendeley, Grammarly

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Target Audience:

Capstone Review Evaluators

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Year:

2021

This is an interactive, “fully-loaded” version of my WGU M.Ed in Learning and Technology capstone/research project.  I’ve provided clickable links to references used, websites mentioned, and anchored links within the table of contents for navigational ease.  To quickly return to the top of the page at any time, click on the square box containing the up arrow at the bottom right corner of the page.

If you’d prefer a standard text-only version, you may download the project as a PDF here on my site, or view my capstone in its entirety on Academia.edu or ResearchGate.

My goal in this project was to prove with qualitative data that learner-defined success would improve when participating in a virtual, asynchronous course with a focus on open communication, prompt feedback, and encouragement.  I was happy to see that my results aligned with my hypothesis.

Communicating Success: The Effect of Prompt Feedback on Adult Learner Success in an Asynchronous, Online Resume Optimization Course

Bela Gaytan

A Capstone Presented to the Teachers College Faculty of Western Governors University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Education in Learning and Technology

April 11, 2021

Abstract

The topic of this research centers on prompt feedback’s effect on adult student success in online coursework.  The question that inspired this study was, “What is the effect of prompt feedback on adult learner success in an asynchronous, online resume optimization course, as measured by self-assessment Likert-scale questionnaires”?  Ten research participants were chosen, all of whom are independent adults who are, or were previously, online students.  The eight-hour course was taken on BrightBel.com, a website owned by the researcher, who was also the instructor in this action research study.  Students were given prompt, effective, and personalized feedback throughout the course.  Data was collected using three identical questionnaires containing close-ended and Likert-style questions following each of the course’s three modules.  Average increases in success scores upon course completion were 75%, a significant increase.  This demonstrates that the use of prompt feedback is highly effective and positively influences adult student success in online courses.

Topic

Online education is becoming increasingly popular for students who do not want to (or are unable to) attend classes in person.  As an online student myself, I have firsthand experience of the convenience and flexibility of learning remotely.  With this experience and an undergraduate degree in business and human resources management, my field of interest is online learning for adults with a focus on business and career courses.  I plan to not only develop courses from an instructional design standpoint but to also create content and coursework to personally teach online.

One notable difference between distance education and in-person instruction is how students receive feedback.  In online courses, communication usually takes place asynchronously via e-mail or a messaging function within the course.  This disconnect can cause problems with students having access to support on time. Kauffman (2015) performed a study to review factors that affect the satisfaction and performance of adult, online learners.  She found that a lack of community and decreased access to prompt feedback contributed to negative outcomes while interacting with others combatted feelings of isolation.  Huang (2002) performed a similar study that focused on constructivist teaching methods for adult online learners.  She points out that students may struggle with social isolation and feel as though there is less of a human aspect to online learning.  She concluded that interactions between learners and their instructors are a crucial function in e-learning success. Communication is essential in education and in being an effective educator.  Effective communication and feedback serve to inform, encourage, motivate, and stimulate learners (Davies, n.d.).  This especially holds for asynchronous learning where students don’t benefit from being in a physical classroom with other learners and their instructor.  For my topic of research, I focused on the effect of prompt feedback on adult student success in an online resume optimization course.

Problem Statement

Adult students in online courses often don’t receive timely responses from their instructors.  This issue negatively impacts society by limiting the potential educational and career advancement of learners.  It also has the potential to hinder learners’ motivation and persistence (Park & Choi, 2009), which directly correlates to their success in their studies.  Perhaps action research, whereby I will be the researcher and the teacher, that investigates the impact of communicating prompt feedback for adult learners in online, asynchronous classes will help improve the situation.

Problem Background and Causes

Communication is paramount to a successful learning environment.  This is especially significant in online education as it may not be as easy to establish rapport online as compared to in-person.  So important is communication that five of Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education directly relate to communication: encouraging communication between learners and faculty, developing reciprocity and collaboration among learners, giving prompt feedback, clearly explaining appropriate time for tasks, and relaying high expectations (1987).  Glazier even suggests that differences in retention rates between in-person and online courses are due to the lack of face-to-face contact between teachers and students (2016).

Despite access to others via technology, prompt communication between adult online learners and their instructors is often less than optimal.  Without the ability to raise a hand such as one could do in a typical classroom, learners could easily feel frustrated due to lack of instructor availability.  This could easily affect their motivation and cause them to struggle in their coursework.  Multiple studies consistently indicate that student perceptions of success and satisfaction are higher when there is increased interaction and communication with the instructors in online learning environments (Bonnel et al., 2008; Horspool & Lange, 2012; Sun et al., 2008).

When made to feel unsupported, learners may be less likely to succeed in their studies.  One possible cause for this is when a student’s expectations for communication are not met.  Park and Choi (2009) found that students were more likely to quit a class when they did not receive feedback or felt it was too difficult to get in touch with their instructors.  Another possible cause is when instructors don’t communicate the objectives and timeframes for a course.  Factor this in with delayed feedback and the situation worsens.  According to research by Tanis (2020), students appreciated clear requirements, along with reminders in various forms, calendars, and other tools to help students stay on track.

Offering constructive, timely, and encouraging feedback to learners can be an excellent way to build rapport, create trust, and empower students to succeed.  For feedback to be effective, it should acknowledge and monitor learner progress, be encouraging, offer ideas for development relevant to the students’ capabilities, as well as be given promptly (Brown et al., 1997; Jones & Blankenship, 2014; Kauffman, 2015).

Research Question

What is the effect of prompt feedback on adult learner success in an asynchronous, online resume optimization course, as measured by self-assessment Likert scale questionnaires?

Topic and Problem Conclusion

Having been an online student at different institutions over the years, I understand the disconnect present when there is a problem with communication and response time in online studies.  Feeling unsupported or as though I was receiving “cookie-cutter” responses, I often felt a lack of motivation and loss of interest.  Both feelings are contributing factors to student success.  I hope that by providing the students with a more personalized experience (prompt and effective feedback, encouraging and personal communication, and collaboration opportunities), they will be more successful in their studies and beyond.

Success is measured differently for each individual.  Some may measure success by grades, while others measure success by the completion of a course, grasping concepts, using newfound skills to gain employment, or earning credentials.  For this reason, I am not defining success in this study; rather, the students will be measuring their success with Likert scale questions.

Overview of the Literature

Online learning is growing at a rapid pace.  It offers a more convenient and flexible way for adult learners to be taught new skills, enroll in higher education, or enhance their careers.  Offering courses online also increases accessibility to learners who may have barriers preventing them from attending traditional courses in a brick-and-mortar setting.  This especially applies to those with differing abilities and health issues or those with work or home schedules that would typically conflict with standard operating hours.

Technology plays an important role in distance education.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer free classroom content and resources from universities and schools worldwide.  Learning Management Systems (LMSs) package course content into digital form and include such elements as gamification, instant grades, and discussion boards.  Programs such as Zoom and Google Hangouts can be used to connect with instructors and students in real-time via video for a more authentic connection.  Yet despite these advances in technology, Lohr and Haley (2018) concluded that face-to-face interactions that normally occur between students and instructors have fallen to the wayside.

In this literature review, I assessed multiple studies to illustrate the value of communication as it relates to success for adult online learners.  I found that adult students often have different expectations than younger students, which plays an important role in their motivating factors and outcomes.  Also, adult students who feel well supported tend to have better learning outcomes and completion rates than those who feel unsupported (Park & Choi, 2009).  Finally, they tend to perform better when the course design directly incorporates one-on-one communication, prompt feedback, and collaborative activities into the content.

Adult Student Expectations

The expectations of adult students vary significantly from those of younger students.  Adults choose to continue their education, whereas the education of children is compulsory, so this already points to desire, self-improvement, and motivation factoring into their decision to continue their education.  As such, adult students expect to feel proud and achieve a sense of accomplishment in their studies, motivating them to succeed (Conaway & Zorn-Arnold, 2015).

Bourdeaux and Schoenack (2016) conducted a study to investigate how the expectations of adult students taking online coursework led to positive and negative learning outcomes.  The study focused on the expectancy violations theory – a theory of communication that interprets the outcomes when a person’s expectations are not met.  They were able to note that when expectations were met, the students had more positive outcomes; when expectations were unmet, negative outcomes resulted.  They discovered a central theme for most students; they expected instructors to be clear, respectful, caring, and to have designed coursework intentionally.  These principles are considered best practices in any teaching environment but especially so for online learning where communication often is lacking.

Students’ Need for Support

Students need to feel supported – by family, other students, their instructor, and their organization.  In an online learning environment, feeling supported can be challenging, due to differences in time zones, backgrounds of other students and the instructors, and learners who may experience technological difficulties (Rowland, 2012).

E-mentoring is a great option to help students feel supported.  This is especially so when a student lacks support from people outside of their learning environment, such as family, partner, or friends.  Some define mentoring as involving the more experienced mentor transferring wisdom and skills to a less experienced individual (Rowland, 2012).  Katamei and Omwono (2015) defined a model of mentoring as a carefully managed program with one or more teachers, coaches, or mentors working regularly with students one-on-one or in small groups.  By offering effective and prompt feedback and personalized communication on a more frequent basis in this course, it has the potential to serve the same purpose as e-mentoring in a more convenient format for learners.

The resulting relationships forged between the student and the instructor not only help to bring about positive outcomes for the students but the instructor and organization as well (Tisdell & Shekhawat, 2019).  Their mentoring model of DARP (Discuss, Archive, Reflect, and Prepare) contributed to positive outcomes for the mentee.  Mentoring in higher education has also been shown to promote better academic performance, increase levels of satisfaction, and reduce rates of dropouts (Udom et al, 2020).  The support given to learners helps to maintain engagement while encouraging them to be reflective, ask questions, and use their knowledge to achieve their goals (Homitz & Berge, 2008; White-Jefferson et al, 2020).  By following these mentorship models of communication in an online learning environment, a more supportive and successful learning experience can be achieved.

Course Design to Include Communication

Online learning is very different from a traditional classroom.  If a student needs help, they typically cannot ask a question and immediately get a response and clarification from instructors.  There is no face-to-face contact or socialization such as would occur in a classroom with other students and instructors physically present (Kauffman, 2015).  The design of adult online courses requires strategies that go beyond relying only on technology to deliver the courses (Criu & Ceobanu, 2013).

Social constructivist-based instructional design is highly beneficial for adult online learners.  Huang (2002) recommended six instructional andragogical principles when creating adult online courses:  interactive learning (interactions between other students and the instructor), collaborative learning (collective reflection and social compromise), facilitating learning (a safe environment where learners can freely express themselves), authentic learning (learning should align with real-life skills), learner-centered learning (self-directed and experiential learning), and high-quality learning (involving critical thinking skills to assess and validate information).  Incorporating all these principles into online courses for adults provides a strong foundation for learning and encouraging communication.

Conaway and Zorn-Arnold (2015) found that assignments, as well as discussion and collaboration projects, should be focused on problem-solving related to adult issues.  This allowed students to apply their learning directly in their lives and towards their goals.  Lohr & Haley (2018) discovered that when social presence opportunities were built into the design of a course, it helped to increase communication, learning, and engagement for online learners.  Social presence (one of three aspects of the Community of Inquiry Framework for measuring engagement in online learning) calls for creating student interaction opportunities within e-learning courses (Henrikson, 2019).

Learning can also be enriched when audio and video communication components are included (Ladyshewsky & Pettapiece, 2015).  Offering video lessons, audio recordings, and live webinars/cohorts are viable options to include audiovisual content.  Additionally, older adults were shown to place value on the aesthetics of online courses (Githens, 2007) as well as the website’s usability.  Website usability, including visual appeal, are another way to effectively facilitate communication with learners online.

Summary

E-learning is rapidly growing and evolving.  To ensure that learners of all demographics are represented, instructors, instructional designers, and organizations must consider the different needs of the diverse population of learners.  It is important to consider the varying accessibility and needs of the learners when creating the course and website design.  Pedagogical methods of teaching and course design will not always align with the needs and expectations of adult students.  While technology is improving accessibility to online learning and communication, there still exists a dire need for prompt feedback and direct, personal communication within remote learning environments to help learners feel supported and encourage success.

Research Design

The resume optimization course will have purposely integrated prompt feedback, increased instructor-to-student interaction, and personalization.  Prompt feedback will be given after each lesson in writing and students will also have the option to receive audio or video feedback, in addition to the written feedback.  Text messages will also be an option for course announcements, reminders, and general messages of support and encouragement.  Questions and messages will be answered on time, defined as within one business day from when the message was sent.  All communication and interactions will be personalized to build a stronger level of connectedness with students and show more of my personality to facilitate bonding (Steele & Holbeck, 2018).  By implementing these interventions, it will help to build rapport, empower students, and nurture success.

The course will run eight hours in length and will be delivered fully online.  Learning is self-paced and completely asynchronous.  The instructional sequence for each course will start with pre-instructional activities, followed by reviewing previous content, introducing new content, independent practice, optional collaboration with others, and ending with a brief preview of the next lesson.  Once completed with the course, learners will be able to optimize their resumes using techniques learned to tailor their resumes to each unique job, as well as using a resume optimization tool when applying for jobs.

The research design adheres to the action research design model in multiple ways.  The goal is to promote a positive change in the context of online learning.  The research is problem-focused and seeks to improve the problem in the environment.  I will also be the researcher and the instructor, a hallmark of action research.

Research Question

What is the effect of prompt feedback on adult learner success in an asynchronous, online resume optimization course, as measured by self-assessment Likert scale questionnaires?

Participants

I will be selecting 10 research participants who are online adult students or were previously online students.  Participants are considered adults if they are over the age of 18 and independently living on their own and supporting themselves financially.  This also includes students who are married, living with a partner or roommate(s), and/or financially supporting children or other family members.  Students are defined as anyone currently or previously enrolled in courses with a higher education institution or career and personal enrichment courses offered online.  Courses must be fully online and not hybrid or mixed with on-campus learning.

The learners are adults of all ages and are not restricted to a specific gender.  The learners will be diverse and inclusive of various cultures, abilities, socioeconomic statuses, and educational levels.  The motivating force behind the learners will be the opportunity to improve their chances for success when applying for jobs.  They will also be motivated by the opportunity to take courses online with the flexibility of being self-paced and asynchronous, as well as being offered at an affordable price.

Data Collection Instruments and Methods

Quantitative data will be collected using online questionnaires with close-ended and Likert-scale questions.  Participants will initially be screened using a 13-item questionnaire that includes a description of the study and clear instructions on how to complete the questionnaire.  The first 3 questions are designed to screen the applicants so that only qualified volunteers will proceed.  Individuals meeting the criterion for the study will be contacted via e-mail.  They will receive a more in-depth description of the study and be asked if they would like to participate.  Upon agreeing and signing informed consent, each participant will be assigned a volunteer number, to use as an identifier on their questionnaires and throughout the study.

After each of the three lessons, learners will receive a 20-item questionnaire so that their changes in responses can be measured as they progress through the course.  The questionnaires will focus on communication with the instructor, prompt and effective feedback, success in the course, feeling supported, and satisfaction with their studies.  By repeating the questionnaires after each lesson, the impact of designing purposeful communication and prompt feedback into the course will be able to be analyzed.  Finally, at the end of the study, participants will be thanked for their participation and debriefed.  This will offer the research participants to openly express concerns and ask any questions about the study (Acrobatiq, 2015, p. 27).

Data Security and Confidentiality

As the data collections all take place online, security and protection of information are paramount.  Upon agreeing and signing the Informed Consent Form, each participant will be assigned a unique identifier to use on their questionnaires and throughout the study.  They will also use this identifier as their student “name” in the course, to maintain confidentiality.  To ensure secure transmission of respondent information contained in the questionnaires, they will be transmitted with HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encryption via Google Forms.  The course also uses HTTPS encryption on BrightBel.com.  No identifiable data at the participant level will be used in the reporting of this research study and only aggregate data will be reported in the research paper.

Summary

This action research-based study utilizes quantitative data to investigate the effect of prompt feedback on adult learner success in online studies.  There will be a total of ten adult participants who are taking or have taken online courses.  Participants will receive a unique identifier to be used throughout the study to maintain complete anonymity.  Data will be collected using questionnaires with close-ended and Likert-scale questions.  Only aggregate data will be used in the final report.  Descriptive statistics will be used to analyze the data collected and compared to see the impact, if any, on adult learner success in a fully online, self-paced, asynchronous resume optimization course.

Results Overview

During the research study, quantitative data was collected from the learners in the form of three questionnaires containing close-ended and Likert-style questions (Appendix B).  The questionnaires were identical and offered to the students after the completion of the course’s three modules.  The goal was to assess the changes, if any, of the students’ answers after each module of the class, and assessing the students’ self-assessment of their success in the course after receiving prompt and personalized feedback.  The students’ self-assessment of other traits that could be considered contributing factors to success was measured as well.  These included communication, confidence, and feeling supported.

The results of this study are based on ten independent adult learners who participated in the eight-hour, asynchronous, online resume optimization course offered on BrightBel.com.  Each learner was assigned a unique name, which was a number in written format, and logged in securely to the website to complete the modules, quizzes, and submit their assignments.  Fifteen learners initially signed the consent forms, but only ten learners completed the course in its entirety.  The data in the study is only based on the learners who completed the course.

Overall, 100% of the learners showed improvements in at least one area as they progressed through the course.  One student showed improvement in one area, four students showed improvements in two areas, four students showed improvements in three areas, and one student showed improvements in all four areas of measurement (Table 1).  Some areas stayed the same, where students already assessed themselves at a high level of knowledge or confidence, but no student showed any regression or worsening in any areas measured in the questionnaires after each module.

Table 1: Overall improvement percentages with descriptive data

Data Analysis

Demographic information, along with previous online course experience, was voluntarily gathered before the start of the research study.  This took place using an initial screening questionnaire to determine participant eligibility (Appendix B).  Participants were also encouraged to choose multiple options when applicable for questions where more than one response could apply, to avoid feeling obligated to select only one choice.

The majority of the study participants’ previous online course experience was with college or university credit courses, with nine learners responding as such.  Four learners took courses on career and skill enhancement sites, while one learner had experience taking Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  One participant had experience taking courses on topic websites (Figure 2).  Examples of career and skill enhancement sites are LinkedIn Learning, SkillShare, and PluralSightCoursera, Khan Academy, and edX are a few examples of MOOC sites.  Topic websites are niche sites that offer courses of any kind, such as those by e-mail or through the website on various topics, such as Diet Doctor, Nerd Fitness, or Elite Blog Academy.

Figure 2: Learners' types of previous online course experiences

The learners in the study were diverse and a well-represented sample for such a small group.  Of the ten total students, seven were female and three were male.  In terms of the learners’ racial identity, three identified as white/Anglo/Nordic/European, two identified as Latinx/Hispanic, one identified as African/Black and Latinx/Hispanic, one identified as African/Black, Latinx/Hispanic, and White/Anglo/Nordic/European, one identified as Middle Eastern/North African, one identified as Asian (Southeast Asia, Indian Subcontinent), and one identified as Indigenous/Native (North, Central, and South American), as seen in Figure 3.

The mode for the learner age group was the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups.  One learner was in the 18-24 age group, three were in the 25-34 age group, three were in the 35-44 age group, one was in the 45-64 age group, and one was in the 65 and older age group (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Racial identities of learners who completed the course
Figure 3: Racial identities of learners who completed the course
Figure 4: Age groups of learners represented in the research study

Learners were also asked during the initial pre-screening questionnaire if they identified as belonging to any of the following marginalized groups:  having a physical or mental disability, being a non-native English speaker, identifying as LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, + identity), or being a military combat veteran.  This question was optional and learners could choose more than one choice, if applicable.  Three learners each identified as having physical and/or mental disabilities, three identified as English not being their native/first language, and one identified as LGBTQIA+ (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Marginalized groups learners voluntarily self-identified belonging

Using the post-module questionnaires, scores were assigned to each of the learners’ answers (Appendix D, Tables D1 and D2).  Likert-scale questions carried a score from zero to four or five – zero for the lowest possible rating, and four or five for the highest point, depending on the scale range.  Close-ended questions were worth one point for yes, negative one point for no, and zero points for a maybe or unsure or an ”I don’t know” response.  If a question was not applicable or did not apply, it also received a score of zero.

Success in the course as self-evaluated by the learners improved an average of 75% by the end of the course, with a median improvement rate of 51%.  Only one student showed no change in their success score, but this was due to scoring themselves the highest in the success categories each time.  As such, it provided no room for improvement, numerically speaking.  The mode and lowest rate of improvement was 18% with two learners having this rate, while the highest rate of improvement was 300% (Table 6).

Table 6: Overall improvement percentages with descriptive statistics

At the end of module one, the results for success ratings were scattered between low and quite high.  It started to level out after module two, and after module three, all students were scoring themselves in the upper end in the success category (Figure 7). 

Figure 7: Learner self-assessment scores of success after each course module
Figure 7: Learner self-assessment scores of success after each course module

Learners self-assessing their confidence in the post-module questionnaires showed an average of 59% improvement upon completing the final questionnaire in the study, with a median improvement rate of 56%.  No mode was present.  All ten learners showed an increase in confidence.  The lowest level of improvement noted was 7%, but this was also the same student who rated themselves very high with success, leaving little to no room for improvement.  The highest improvement rate noted for confidence was 188% (Table 8).

Table 8: Overall confidence improvement percentages with descriptive statistics

The scores for confidence gradually rose through each of the modules for most students at a steady rate, as can be seen in Figure 9. 

Figure 9: Learner self-assessment scores of confidence after each course module
Figure 9: Learner self-assessment scores of confidence after each course module

Communication did not show much of a change during this study.  Only three learners showed an increase in communication, as can be seen in Table 10.

Table 10: Overall communication improvement percentages with descriptive statistics
Table 10: Overall communication improvement percentages with descriptive statistics

The average improvement was 4 % with a median of 0% and a mode of 0%, as well.  Aside from 0%, the lowest improvement rate was 4%, while the highest improvement rate was 33%.  The score changes for communication are likely insignificant, both based on the descriptive statistics, and by looking at the chart where the data appears near identical from module to module (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Learner self-assessment scores of communication after each course module

Finally, students assessed their feelings of being supported.  This category showed 100% improvement for three students and no improvement for the other seven.  This brought the average improvement to 30%, with a median and mode both of 0% (Table 12).

Table 12: Overall communication improvement percentages with descriptive statistics
Table 12: Overall communication improvement percentages with descriptive statistics

Two students showed their improvements during module two, while the remaining student joined them with improvement in module three (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Learner self-assessment scores of feeling supported after each course module
Figure 13: Learner self-assessment scores of feeling supported after each course module

Answers to the Research Questions

The research question of, “What is the effect of prompt feedback on adult learner success in an asynchronous, online resume optimization course, as measured by self-assessment Likert scale questionnaires?” is answered and supported by the quantitative data showing the improved ratings in the learner self-assessment questionnaires following each course module.  Overall, the data was very positive and promising.  Each learner who showed room for improvement in the area of success showed at least an 18% improvement, with the average for students being a 75% improvement rate.  Students also demonstrated an average 59% improvement in their confidence, which was highly encouraging.  Confidence is linked to increased motivation, being more resilient, and increased success (Markway, 2018), which is why it was chosen as an adjunct to be tracked along with success as a contributing factor.

Overview

The objective of this action research study was to examine the effect of prompt and effective feedback on adult learner success in an online, asynchronous class.  After collecting the three, identical, self-assessment, post-module questionnaires the learners submitted, the scores were totaled and descriptive statistics were used to analyze the quantitative data.

As was anticipated and hoped for with this study, learners showed improvement with their success.  With the completion of each module, they consistently noted that they felt successful and steadily improved.  The only outlier was Student Two, who initially and thereafter rated themselves at the highest score for success, which left no room for improvement.

The measurements in the adjunct categories were surprising, as well.  The high scores the learners exhibited for confidence exceeded expectations, while the low scores for communication and feeling supported were slightly unexpected.

Problem Solutions

Adult students in online courses need to feel connected to their instructor.  Whether this is for building rapport, offering help, or providing feedback, students need to feel supported and connected.  During this study, learners received prompt feedback by written methods, as well as additional methods of their choosing, which included audio and video options.  Feedback was provided within one business day.  E-mails and text messages were also answered promptly within one business day.  Communication was personalized and casual, to build rapport and create a closer connection to each student.  Help was offered with each interaction if needed.  With this prompt, effective, and personalized feedback, students showed an average 75% increase in success and 59% increase in confidence.  This data supports the conclusion that adult online students are not receiving timely responses from their instructors.  Going a step further, it also demonstrates that prompt and effective feedback could potentially work to solve the problem of the communication and feedback disconnect that is present with many adult online asynchronous courses.  This could also lead to increased success and confidence in learners.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One strength was offering individuals the option to choose multiple demographic choices on the pre-screening questionnaires.  This is a source of frustration for many individuals, especially those that identify with more than one race or marginalized identity.  In this way, no one is forced to choose and can freely be themselves and be represented exactly as they are.

Another important strength is not defining what success is to the learners.  The learners needed to be able to use their unique, individualized definition of success when assessing how successful they felt.  Each person defines success differently and the questions were regarding their definition of success, not someone else’s, nor the definition they feel that society has regarding who is successful or what defines success.  This was included for the learners on the post-module questionnaires (Appendix B).

One weakness of this study was the small sample size.  Perhaps the study would have been more robust if the sample size were larger than just ten students.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was felt that a smaller sample size would be more appropriate for the time being, due to many people still sheltering in place, along with the added emotional and psychological weight that many feel at this moment.

Another weakness realized post-analysis is the data collection instrument.  Using an identical questionnaire may not have been the best decision.  Although it is a great way to measure the changes after each module, it’s impossible to know if the learners may have been in a hurry and quickly went through the answers.  They may have misread or just entered the same information as before without pausing for a moment to reflect upon any changes since they last answered the question and thinking about new knowledge gained since then.

Influential Factors

Several students did not reply to the initial e-mail welcoming them to the course.  In this e-mail, they were asked for their reply to indicate the type of personalized and additional feedback they would prefer if any.  (All students receive written feedback, but they had the option to also receive additional forms of feedback, such as audio and video.)  Without their response, it was impossible to know if they were satisfied with only the standard written feedback and just didn’t feel they needed to reply, or if they did not read the email.  It’s also possible that they misunderstood it, or it did not arrive.

Most of the students also did not participate in the optional discussion forums.  There were three discussions, one for each module, that were appropriately themed according to the topic of the module.  This may have skewed the communication and feeling supported results in the post-module questionnaires, as they were scored zero for the questions asking about communicating in the forums and feeling supported by fellow learners.

Further Investigation

Further investigation into how to implement best practices for adults taking online asynchronous courses is warranted.  This study has shown that prompt feedback has the potential to improve several core areas that contribute to adult learner success.  This improvement can likely be attributed to the connection and rapport that is strengthened when an instructor and student connect one on one and in a prompt manner.  Confidence appears to go hand-in-hand with success in online learning and finding ways to connect the two could continue to yield more promising results.

Prompt and effective feedback has shown to be helpful in this small study, so it would be wonderful to see the results in a larger study of longer duration.  It would be interesting to actively involve students in creating their success plans.  In these plans, the students would create a blueprint of the type of feedback that works best for them, what they need to achieve to feel successful, their goals for the future, and their support team they can contact whenever needed.  This is especially helpful for adult students taking online asynchronous courses without easy access to campus.

References

Acrobatiq. (2015). Research Foundations. Online courseware accessed through Western Governors University

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Appendix A

Course Lesson Plans

Module One: Resumes

Performance Objective:  Using available templates, learners will create a personalized master resume without any spelling or grammatical errors in the final document.

Pre-Instructional Activities:  Learners are officially welcomed to the course with a brief video and immediately told of the end goals upon completion: writing their resume, creating a cover letter, and optimizing a resume.  They are also advised to plan ahead by finding a job posting of interest to use as they progress through the course.  I will motivate the learners by explaining that a resume and cover letter are the first impressions you make with a prospective employer and the importance of making it positive.  After a brief module overview, I give an overview of what I like to call “The Resume Sandwich”.  It’s an overview of the three components being taught in the course and it allows the learners a catchy visual to help remember the pieces and see how they all fit together.

New Content Presentation:  To gain attention, I will start the lesson with a few humorous memes regarding resume frustrations and struggles.  I will then ask learners if they can relate.  Resume purpose will be explained as its own genre of professional writing, distinct from academic genres (ReadWriteThink, n.d.).  I will explain the three Fs of resume writing and how to use these guidelines when creating a resume.  I will go over the five main sections of a resume and give examples of what type of information goes into each section. 

Independent Practice:  The learners will be instructed to spend some time on their own reviewing two sample resumes provided and taking note of the three Fs being used in each resume.  They will complete the three Fs of resume writing handout where they will summarize the information discussed in the class about the form, function, and effectiveness of resumes.  Reviewing the resumes and the handout previously mentioned do not need to be turned in, but are solely for learner enrichment and enhancement of knowledge learned.  Learners will be instructed to create their resumes using the resume templates offered by Cultivated Culture or any other templates of their choosing.  A resume planning mind map and resume checklist by BrightBel will also be provided, as well as a handout of resume dos and don’ts by My Perfect Resume.  Learners will upload their resume directly to the course via secure file upload on BrightBel.com.

Optional Collaboration:  For collaborative practice, students have the option to connect in the discussion forum.  This module’s discussion topic will be resume action verbs.  Learners will be provided a link to an article listing 185 action verbs created by The Muse (n.d.).  Learners can discuss their thoughts on these words, which ones they plan to use or would not use, and offer any other action verbs they think are powerful.

Assessment:  Learners take a quick quiz after the new content presentation to help cement the knowledge they’ve learned thus far.  They also take their final quiz after the optional collaboration section.  The completed resume is assessed and must be free of any spelling or grammatical errors, as well as follow the three Fs to exhibit proficiency in understanding the purpose of resumes.

Upcoming Lesson Preview:  Learners will be given a brief overview of the next lesson on cover letters and their importance when applying for jobs.  They will also be advised that the lesson format for the next section will be very similar to this one.

Physical resources Required:  Use of a desktop or laptop computer, Internet access, use of a printer (if wanting to print out resources), a registered account on BrightBel.com, a registered account on CultivatedCulture.com, Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader, and MS Word or other word processing program.

Module Two: Cover Letters

Performance Objective:  Using a specific job posting, learners will create a unique, customized cover letter without any spelling or grammatical errors in the final document.

Pre-Instructional Activities:  Before beginning the content presentation, I will present a brief overview of the lesson to the class.  I will then share a video talking about our dream jobs – the job we always wanted, the job posting we see that makes us squeal, or the company with which we have always wanted to be employed.  I explain that our cover letter is our chance to shine brightly and that while a resume can highlight our skills and talents, a cover letter is our chance to highlight our personality and connect more deeply with the resume reader.  Without both a good resume and cover letter, we may never get the chance to even get close to the door, let alone step inside.  This analogy helps to gain attention and motivate the learners. 

Review of Previous Content:  We will briefly review what was covered in the previous lesson on resumes.  I will highlight the writing genre of resumes, the main sections of a resume, and resume dos and don’ts.

New Content Presentation:  I will discuss the purpose of a cover letter, according to Career One Stop (n.d.): “The main purpose of a cover letter is to interest the employer in reading your resume”.  I will discuss the main elements of a cover letter from Cultivated Culture (Belcak, 2020) and offer ideas on what type of information they should add to each section.  Learners will be taught the importance of customizing the cover letter to the specific job and to avoid regurgitating all the resume information into the cover letter. 

Independent Practice:  The learners will be instructed to use their chosen job posting to craft their personalized cover letter, as though they are applying for this position.  I will also recommend learners utilize Grammarly or a similar program for help with grammar and word suggestions.  The students will be provided the How to Write a Job-Winning Cover Letter printout by Cultivated Culture (Belcak, 2020).  I will also offer two sample cover letters from Cultivated Culture and The Muse (Kalish, n.d.) as guides to help them create an interesting and unique letter. A cover letter mind map by BrightBel will also be provided to help in planning out the information to place in each area of the letter.  Students will also be encouraged to research the company being applied to before writing their letter.  Learners will upload the cover letter directly via the course page using secure file upload on the lesson page.

Optional Collaboration:  Students have the option to collaborate in the discussion forum.  This module’s discussion topic will be imposter syndrome.  Learners will be provided with an article link from Very Well Mind discussing what imposter syndrome is, its causes, characteristics, and dealing with the syndrome (Cuncic, 2020).  Learners can share whether they have felt imposter syndrome before when applying for jobs, or if it has ever held them back from applying to positions. 

Assessment:  Learners take a quick quiz after the new content presentation to help reinforce the information they’ve acquired so far.  They also take their final quiz after the optional collaboration portion of the course.  The completed cover letter is assessed and must be free of any spelling or grammatical errors.

Upcoming Lesson Preview:  Learners will be given a brief overview of the next lesson on Applicant Tracking Systems and resume optimization using a resume scanner.  They will also be advised that the lesson format for the next section will be very similar to this one.

Physical resources Required:  Use of a desktop or laptop computer, Internet access, use of a printer (if wanting to print out resources), a registered account on BrightBel.com, a registered account on CultivatedCulture.com, Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader, and MS Word or other word processing program.

Module Three: Resume Optimization

Performance Objective:  Using a resume scanner and optimization tool, learners will analyze and edit their resumes until they reach a score of 50 percent or higher.

Pre-Instructional Activities:  Before beginning the content presentation, I will present a brief overview of the module to the class.  The lesson will start with a humorous joke about an ATS sounding like some sort of spyware that is tracking job seekers.  I will explain what an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is and what function it serves in human resources, as well as the benefits for both the organizations that use them and the applicants that are applying for jobs. 

Review of Previous Content:  We will briefly review what was covered in the previous lesson on cover letters.  I will highlight the point of the cover letter, the main sections of a cover letter, and remind students of the importance of standing out with your letter. 

New Content Presentation:  At this point, I will begin to show a video that shares my screen while I am on Cultivated Culture’s website, utilizing their ResyMatch resume scanner tool.  My video shows me live as I navigate the website and optimize a sample resume provided in real-time.  I go step by step through the process, so the learners can see how to upload their resume and the job description into the tool and retrieve their results.  I will also show them how to make appropriate changes and to recheck until they have reached the required score of at least 50 needed for their assessment.  I then discuss how there is no way to know exactly where one is in the ATS, but that it’s important to be honest, followed by a humorous meme about overstating simple, mundane tasks.

Independent Practice:  Learners are greeted by OptiBot, their resume optimization robot!  Their mission is to optimize their resume independently and continue to check and edit it until they successfully reach a score of at least 50 percent on ResyMatch.  Learners will submit a saved copy of the job posting, as well as the resume in PDF form directly to the course via secure file upload on BrightBel.com.

Optional Collaboration:  For collaborative practice, students have the option to connect in the discussion forum.  This lesson’s discussion topic will be LinkedIn.  I will provide a handout of LinkedIn’s “20 Steps to a Better LinkedIn Profile in 2020” (Fleming, 2020) article.  I will also provide a link to a profile picture generator.  Learners can share their LinkedIn profile links with others, as well as discuss ways they have optimized their LinkedIn pages. 

Assessment:  Learners take a quick quiz after the new content presentation to help cement the knowledge they’ve learned thus far, as well as their final quiz after the optional discussion forum lesson.  The required optimized resume must be submitted with a score of at least 50 percent from ResyMatch.  Once achieved, learners will export the result to a PDF file and submit it as their assessment.

Instructional Resources or Materials Used:  Job posting of the student’s choosing, previously completed resume.  Optional materials: 20 Steps to a Better LinkedIn Profile in 2020.

Physical resources Required:  Use of a desktop or laptop computer, Internet access, use of a printer (if wanting to print out resources), a registered account on BrightBel.com, a registered account on CultivatedCulture.com, Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader, and MS Word or other word processing program.

Appendix B

Research Study Initial/Pre-Screening Questionnaire

This questionnaire was offered to individuals interested in the research to pre-screen eligibility for participation in the study.  It also offered valuable insight into the previous online coursework and instructor communication experiences of the potential participants.

Pre-Questionnaire: screenshot 2
Pre-Questionnaire: screenshot 3

Post-Module Questionnaire

This questionnaire is identical to the questionnaires used after modules two and three.  The only differences were the titles (Post Module Two and Post Module Three, respectively).

Post-Questionnaire: screenshot 1
Post-Questionnaire: screenshot 2
Post-Questionnaire: screenshot 3
Post-Questionnaire: screenshot 4
Post-Questionnaire: screenshot 5

Module One - Quick Quiz

This quick quiz takes place during the resume module, immediately after learning new content, and before independent practice.

Module 1 Question 1
Module 1 Question 2
Module 1 Question 3

Module One - Final Quiz

The final quiz of the resume module occurs after the optional collaboration/forum discussion and before the upcoming lesson preview.

Module 1 Final Quiz Question 1
Module 1 Final Quiz Question 2
Module 1 Final Quiz Question 3
Module 1 Final Quiz Question 4
Module 1 Final Quiz Question 5
Module 1 Final Quiz Question 6

Module Two - Quick Quiz

This quick quiz takes place during the cover letter module, immediately after learning new content, and before independent practice.

Module 2 Quiz Question 1
Module 2 Quiz Question 2

Module Two - Final Quiz

The final quiz of the cover letter module occurs after the optional collaboration/forum discussion and before the upcoming lesson preview.

Module 2 Final Quiz Question 1
Module 2 Final Quiz Question 2
Module 2 Final Quiz Question 3

Module Three - Quick Quiz

This quick quiz takes place during the resume optimization module, immediately after learning new content and before independent practice.

Module 3 Quiz Question 1
Module 3 Quiz Question 2

Module Three - Final Quiz

The final quiz of the resume optimization module occurs after the optional collaboration/forum discussion and before the completion of the resume optimization course.

Module 3 Final Quiz Question 1
Module 3 Final Quiz Question 2

Appendix C

Informed Consent

Adult Participants

Western Governors University – Teachers College
Master of Education, Learning and Technology

Bela Gaytan

Communicating Success: The Effect of Prompt Feedback on Adult Learner Success
in an Asynchronous, Online Resume Optimization Course


Introduction

Bela Gaytan, a graduate student researcher at Western Governors University, has been granted initial approval to conduct research and gather data to study the impact of prompt feedback on adult student success in an online, asynchronous resume optimization course.  The course will take place on BrightBel.com, which is owned by Bela Gaytan.  As an action research study, she will be both the researcher and the instructor.   

Description of the Project

This research study seeks to answer the question: “What is the effect of prompt feedback on adult learner success in an asynchronous, online resume optimization course, as measured by self-assessment questionnaires?”  The course contains 3 modules – resumes, cover letters, and resume optimization.  Each module is broken down into several smaller lessons that contain written content, videos, handouts, audio files, and infographics.  Students will submit their chosen methods of feedback and communication once beginning the course and regularly receive feedback, contact, and instructor support throughout the course.  The estimated length of time to complete the course is eight hours and learners proceed through the course at their own pace and their chosen location remotely.  Participants will be required to complete a 20-item questionnaire after completion of each lesson.  No audio or video data will be collected from participants during this study.

Benefits and Risks of the Study

There are no physical risks involved for participants in the study.  There is potential for some participants to feel nervous about quizzes or performance anxiety while completing questionnaires.  With that said, any anticipated risks in this study are minimal and no greater than what would occur in everyday life.  Clear and detailed instructions will be provided for quizzes and questionnaires to reduce nervousness and anxiety risks.  Participants will be provided clear instructions on how to contact the researcher, should they feel any risks or harm.  The researcher will also be checking in with students regularly by their chosen method of communication.

This study has the potential to help us understand the positive impact of communication on adult students’ success in online studies.  This could potentially allow students to be more self-aware of the type of communication that works best for them and to reach out to their instructors more.  If participants see that prompt feedback has helped their success, they may feel more confident in their abilities and even notice that they are more effective communicators.  The study also has the potential benefit of allowing the researcher, as the owner of BrightBel, to create more inclusive and empowering content for future courses.

Confidentiality

Each participant will be assigned a unique number to use as an identifier on their questionnaires and throughout the research study.  Any raw data produced from this study will only be seen by the researcher; all other data will only be attached to your unique identifier in the results.  This assigned number will also be used as the student’s name in the course roster and the optional discussion forums, maintaining privacy and anonymity.  To ensure secure transmission of the information contained in the questionnaires and the course, HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encryption is used on BrightBel.com and questionnaires take place securely using Google Forms.

Voluntary Participation and Withdrawal

Participation in the study is completely voluntary and you have the right to withdraw at any time by contacting the researcher.  Your student status at BrightBel for this course or any future courses will not be impacted in any way due to participation or withdrawal from this study.  Participants also have the right to contact the researcher to request that their results be excluded from being used in the study.

Questions, Rights, and Complaints

Should you have any questions about the study, wish to have your data excluded, or would like to withdraw, you may contact the researcher, Bela Gaytan, by e-mailing bgaytan@wgu.edu

Should you have any questions about your rights or unresolved questions or complaints about this study, you may contact the WGU IRB Chair by e-mail at irb@wgu.edu

Participants have the right to view the results of the study and may request so by contacting the researcher by telephone or e-mail.

Consent Statement 

By digitally signing this document, you hereby grant permission for the collection of your data and the necessary data reporting that is required for this research study.  Your signature verifies that you voluntarily agree to participate and you have had the opportunity to have your questions addressed.  You also confirm that you have received a copy of this form.

 

                                                                                                                                               
Participant Signature                                                  Today’s Date

                                                           
Participant First and Last Name

Appendix D

Learner Questionnaire Scores

Each question in the post-module questionnaires was assigned to a specific group for scoring: success being the main focus, and additional groups of communication, confidence, and feeling supported. The data is arranged by learner and points are shown per question (both single and multi-part question), per module, as well as total points per module and category are included. 

Table D1

Scores assigned to learners’ One, Two, Three, Six, and Seven post-module questionnaires

Scores assigned to learners’ One, Two, Three, Six, and Seven post-module questionnaires

Table D2

Scores assigned to learners’ Nine, Ten, Twelve, Thirteen, and Fifteen post-module questionnaires

Scores assigned to learners’ Nine, Ten, Twelve, Thirteen, and Fifteen post-module questionnaires


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