Exploring the ergonomic factors in online students learning environments: A cross-faculty scholarship of teaching and learning project

Year: 2016

Author: Walker, Rebecca, Jansz, Janis, Bay, Joo Hwa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There are rapidly growing numbers of students studying university units and courses online (Grattan Institute, 2014). To greater support and improve teaching and learning practices in these online environments, there is a need to understand how students are studying and the environments in which they study. This is essential to quality online education as student perceptions of their learning environments are known to be significantly associated with the quality of their learning outcomes (Ginns & Ellis, 2007). This project examined student’s perceptions of their online learning environments through an ergonomic factor framework. The rationale for this framework included the application of ergonomic principles and practices has been successful in the occupational sector and it was anticipated that this could be translated to positively impact student learning (Smith, 2007). Furthermore, there is a gap in knowledge about how ergonomic factors impact student learning (Soroka, 2015). This research was based in a cross faculty scholarship of teaching and learning project. The aim of this project was to examine how physical, social, environmental, organisational and cognitive ergonomic factors impact the learning of students studying fully online. The research participants (N=123) were students enrolled in fully online university units in a School of Public Health, School of Education, and the School of Architecture and Built Environment. Student perceptions of their online learning environment were collected through the use of a self-administered online questionnaire and checklist. Quantitative analysis included descriptive statistics, correlation, reliability and variance measures. The qualitative analysis utilised identified common themes of ergonomic factors. The results revealed organisational ergonomic factors as being the most important of all five ergonomic factors for providing an effective online learning environment. The findings indicated that online students are most concerned with the environmental ergonomic factors in their learning environment, especially noise as it distracts them from their learning. Online students report that they were most engaged in their online learning when they had tutors who provided direct and timely feedback and were engaging, supportive and friendly. This project resulted in a number of recommendations to greater support students learning in an online environment, including the provision of ergonomic information to students to enable safe, healthily and successful online learning.