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Chris Hubbard, University of North Texas

Chris Hubbard.jpgAcademic advisors are tasked with assisting students with course scheduling for current or future semesters, in which schedules will vary based on a student’s degree program of choice and curriculum guidelines that are set in place. However, creating a schedule that balances out a student’s coursework and extracurricular activities is a critical factor that impacts their overall academic success and sets the tone for how they will progress forward in their academic career.

Recent data provided by Hanover Research (2018) posits that effective course scheduling has been shown to both “boost student retention rates and reduce time to graduation” (p. 4) and more effectively accommodates students who attend college part-time or must commute some distance for their academic studies. This places emphasis on what constitutes a balanced schedule and the critical factors that an advisor must be cognizant of when course planning with their students.

Previous literature has focused on the foundational aspects of advising and the best practices for connecting with students and guiding them through their academic careers. For example, research conducted by the University of California (2015) suggested that strategies such as identifying advising interventions early, leveraging technology, improving coordination of services, and the professionalization of advising staff (pp. 11–18) had a significant impact on student success and facilitating timely graduation. However, the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new obstacles across the higher education landscape.

Growing concerns surrounding the pandemic and its impact on retention and student success rates have presented major challenges for higher education institutions and advisors seeking to find new ways of serving their diverse student populations. Despite this, advisors are called to contribute to the advancement of the academic advising profession to ensure the proper resources remain in place to address the complex situations that can arise before, during, or following an advising appointment.

New Challenges with Course Planning and Instruction in Higher Education

Some of the biggest challenges to effective course planning in higher education are instructional changes that have taken place to accommodate online learning options for undergraduate and graduate students. For students accustomed to a traditional face-to-face learning environment, this has become problematic. The research highlighted in the proceeding paragraphs attempts to identify several of the challenges impacting course planning and instructional formatting more directly; however, a holistic examination of the long-term implications of these issues must also be considered.

According to Burke (2020), long-term participation in online learning has posed a threat to many students' mental and emotional health resulting in lower motivation and an increased sense of alienation (p. 2). For many students, the stress of moving their education fully online hinders their ability to progress forward academically. The transition to an autonomous self-taught learning style has become a cumbersome challenge. Similarly, Gigliotti (2020) reported increased course planning challenges as department chairs tried to navigate issues such as technology fatigue, budget freezes, transitioning to a fully online learning environment, and “ensuring the safety of colleagues, students, and members of the community” (p. 2).

The pressures faced by students and higher education professionals to stay afloat within an online learning environment are also becoming harder to mitigate and pose a severe threat to the growth and development of stakeholders in the higher education industry. For example, Shahmoradi et al. (2018) cited technology access and skills challenges in utilizing various technological tools as two of the biggest challenges to adopting an online learning instructional style. Recent changes to workplace operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic have also amplified these issues.

Polikoff et al. (2020) report that while the effects of the pandemic appear to vary across the higher education landscape, there are “sizable gaps in impact by race, class, and institution type” (p. 2). In addition, increased economic and social stressors adversely impact students who had changes in their employment status or incurred new responsibilities in caring for their families. This, coupled with managing academic studies in a learning environment that may not adequately support a student’s learning style, is daunting. Even the strongest retention and support initiatives implemented by colleges and universities may not effectively address these issues.

The challenges faced by students, faculty, and administrators adapting to online learning are paramount and require a plan of recourse to which all parties must contribute. For advisors, this extends beyond simply rethinking course planning techniques; more proactive and innovative approaches must be taken. Failing to address the new issues with course planning in an online learning environment pose lasting implications to not only the advising profession, but also to student success as well.

Advising in a New Age Online Learning Environment

Despite the challenges with adapting instructional formats and course planning practices for students, there are several options of recourse for advisors to consider. For example, advisors can begin by initiating conversations with students to identify reservations regarding online instruction and creating the space for them to be open and honest about any current and future coursework required for their degree program. This will provide the advisor a more accurate picture of the student’s needs, help identify the proper resources to support the student, and facilitate more in-depth conversation between advisors and advisees as they move forward towards future course planning.

Developing an online advising model is also beneficial to advisors in their efforts to support students with online learning. Resources such as the Online Learning Advising Model (OLAM) created by Julie Delich, Vice President of Retention and Student Support Services at Wiley Education Services, provide a framework that enriches the academic experience for online learners, but supporting their long-term academic growth by bridging together “proactive advising, appreciative advising, shame resilience theory, and cognitive behavioral theory” (WES, 2021) to prevent student attrition. Additional efforts for studying this approach and similar structures will need to be undertaken to fully understand their scope of influence and determine possible limitations, but implications of adopting such a model show great promise.

Overall, the issues surrounding the transition to an online learning and advising environment are paramount; however, embracing opportunities to think outside the box and adapt to these changes will best serve advisors as they continue to help students achieve success.

Chris Hubbard, M.S.
Senior Academic Advisor
Student Advising Office
College of Education
University of North Texas
[email protected]


Burke, L. (2020, October 27). Moving into the long term. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2020/10/27/long-term-online-learning-pandemic-may-impact-students-well

Gigliotti, R. A. (2020, October 27). The impact of COVID-19 on department chairs. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/10/27/study-documents-how-pandemic-has-exacerbated-challenges-beleaguering-department

Hanover Research (2018). Best practices in course scheduling. https://www.cmich.edu/colleges/se/Documents/Hanover%20Research%20-%20Best%20Practices%20in%20Course%20Scheduling.pdf

Polikoff, M., Silver, D., & Korn, S. (2020, August 4). What’s the likely impact of COVID-19 on higher ed? An analysis of data from a national survey on the impact of the pandemic on higher ed (opinion). Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2020/08/04/analysis-data-national-survey-impact-pandemic-higher-ed-opinion

Shahmoradi, L., Changizi, V., Mehraeen, E., Bashiri, A., Jannat, B., & Hosseini, M. (2018, September 14). The challenges of E-learning system: Higher educational institutions perspective. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 7(116). https://doi.org/10.4103/jehp.jehp_39_18.

University of California (2015). Advising strategies to support timely graduation. https://ucop.edu/institutional-research-academic-planning/_files/Advising_strategies.pdf

Wiley Education Services (2021). Finally, an online advising model that actually works. https://edservices.wiley.com/olam-student-support-retention-strategy-online-distance-learners/

Cite this article using APA style as: Hubbard, C. (2021, December). Advising beyond barriers: Facilitating student success in an online learning landscape. Academic Advising Today, 44(4). [insert url here


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