Supporting Learners

Supporting learners through blended and online courses can often be a challenging prospect. Much of the time the tutor is removed from the student b a great distance. This does not mean that the tutor cannot be supportive or offer a reasonable degree of technical and educational guidance to learners. I would like to take a business-driven model and apply it to learner support.

Within business support systems and ‘Electronic Performance Support Systems’ Teri Lynn Cardona identifies that there are three ways to support workers with their performance.

  • Intrinsic support – support that is integrated into the work environment or software (buttons in an interface like ‘continue’ and ‘submit’).
  • Extrinsic support – support that is requested, but still within the working environment (think of the Microsoft ‘Paperclip’ assistant).
  • External Support – support that is external to the working environment (phoning a helpdesk, emailing for support).

(Cardona, 2004)

These three levels of support don’t just apply to a worker or manager completing a job, but can apply to a student navigating an online course.

One way of familiarising learners with the environment they are working in through both intrinsic and extrinsic means is to set an opening task for the learners. McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores offer this advice to allow learners to get used to the learning environment, in both an intrinsic and extrinsic way, by allowing time for learners to experiment with the tools available; “Gauge the students’ technical performance and help them feel comfortable and confident navigating the online environment before grades become and issue” (McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores, 2017, p.128-129). Furthermore they offer advice for external support if learners are struggling with technology; “Remember that if students have problems understanding how to work in the LMS, you can reach them through more familiar forms of communication – telephone or email.” (McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores, 2017, p. 129).

Intrinsic, extrinsic and external support are clearly defined ways in which we can support learners through what may be an initially intimidating and difficult process of learning in blended and online programmes. Given time to experiment most learners will experiment and be able to find their way through the course. Others may require a little more help through external methods.


Cordana. T. L. 2004 “Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSSs).; last accessed 16/02/2017

McCabe. M. F. and Gonzalez-Flores. P. 2017; “Essentials of Online Teaching: A Standards-Based Guide”; Routledge

One Comment

  1. I’m really enjoying your blog, John and, in particular, this most recent post. Cardona’s point, indicated by you, is both relevant and excellent. I suppose I’m considering how we might know, from the point of view of evaluation, that an approach to support has worked – how do we gauge the degree to which the way we have scaffolded support in an online or blended context has been appropriate, I wonder. In another BOE module we’re looking at extrinsic/intrinsic motivation in the context of digital badges. The literature is divided, to say the least, on whether digital badges offer a solution to motivation.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s