Strengthening human connection to improve online learning

Featured instructor: Trisha Vickrey

Human connection is not just nice to have, it is the bedrock on which learning is built (Hammond, 2015).

A recent study looking into the impact of online course organization, learning objectives, effective technology, and interpersonal interactions found that only the quality of interpersonal interactions was predictive of student grades (Jaggars & Xu, 2016). In other words, how well the instructor was able to communicate their care and support of their learners impacted their students’ performance in their course.

Courses in which the instructor posted frequently, invited student questions through a variety of modalities, responded to student queries quickly, solicited and incorporated student feedback, and (perhaps most importantly) demonstrated a sense of “caring” created an online environment that encouraged students to commit themselves to the course and perform at a stronger academic level (Jaggars & Xu, 2016).

The results indicate that the quality of interpersonal interaction within a course relates positively and significantly to student grades. Additional analyses based on course observation and interview data suggest that frequent and effective student-instructor interaction creates an online environment that encourages students to commit themselves to the course and perform at a stronger academic level (Jaggars & Xu, 2016).

Even small movements toward connection such as the instructor being visible in the video recording and making ‘eye contact’ with the camera can improve student performance on content (Fiorella et al., 2019).

To learn more about how Professor Vickrey creates human connection in her course, contact her. For assistance in setting up and using these techniques in your course, contact an instructional designer assigned to your college.


Fiorella, L., Stull, A. T., Kuhlmann, S., & Mayer, R. E. (2019). Instructor presence in video lectures: The role of dynamic drawings, eye contact, and instructor visibility. Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(7), 1162–1171.

Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Jaggars, S. S., & Xu, D. (2016). How do online course design features influence student performance? Computers & Education, 95, 270–284.

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