In a brick-and-mortar classroom, technical difficulties can be overcome with alternatives. But in an online course, where the internet and associated hardware and software components are the medium for all activity, technical difficulties can bring everything to a halt. 

A student’s inability to log in to the learning management system (LMS), for example, can prevent them from getting coursework done. An online faculty member whose computer isn’t working properly will struggle to facilitate their class. If these issues can’t be quickly resolved, the overall learning experience will suffer. This is why it’s essential for colleges and universities to have on-demand IT support services to rapidly resolve these issues. 

Advice for providing online learners with effective IT support 

The primary motivation behind online learning – whether synchronous or asynchronous – is to offer a way for a person to fit education into their life, according to Justin Denton, director of support services at Collegis Education.  

“If an online learner needs IT support at 1:30 a.m., colleges need to be ready to help. If they can’t provide that in-the-moment help, that student is more likely to feel frustrated, isolated and dissatisfied with the entire online learning experience.”

Justin Denton

The negative impact that technical issues can have on students’ learning experiences and persistence can be mitigated with effective technical assistance for both online learners and faculty. Here are five key factors higher education IT directors or chief information officers (CIO) must consider when building a successful IT support team: 

1. Help requests may come in waves 

Online learners’ lifestyles may vary distinctly from campus-based learners. For example, many may be working 95 jobs and have childcare responsibilities that prevent them from starting schoolwork until late at night. Schools’ IT teams need to be prepared to field an increased volume of support requests at specific times.

“Effective tech support for online learners should have the ability to predict and proactively prepare staffing to address influxes of requests during certain times, as well as during cyclical academic events, such as term starts,” Denton says 

2. COVID-19 has dramatically increased workload 

Since the shift to remote and hybrid learning, IT teams have become around-the-clock, on-call operators who are working hard to keep education flowing despite drastically increased volume. 

During the pandemic, schools rapidly repurposed technologies to deliver education content and instruction to all students remotely. Understandably, this has greatly increased the strain on IT teams, which are now tasked with facilitating uninterrupted learning via managing IT infrastructure, providing access to VPNs and resolving all other incidents. To keep up with the increased demand for tech support, IT departments must be adequately staffed to keep up, act quickly and perform in a way that satisfactorily represents your school’s brand 

3. Support must be provided remotely 

Tech support teams that effectively serve online learners must have the capability to assist without having access to the students’ physical hardware. This may include the usage of remote access software.

“When on-campus students have a technical issue, it’s easier for them to consult a fellow student or take their computer in to the school’s IT department for troubleshooting. But because remote learners are spread across many different locations, IT teams must find a way to remotely provide desktop support,” Denton explains. 

4. Online learners work at all hours – across multiple time zones 

Not only are distance learners working from different places, but they’re also working at different times. Online learners are logging in at all hours of the day, every day of the year. This means IT professionals need to make sure that the technology is working, and 24/7/365 user support is available if there ever is a problem. 

5. Types of help requests will vary widely 

Technology is embedded in every aspect of an online student’s learning experience. From course registration, communication with advisors and faculty, receiving grades, using LMS and student information systems (SIS) and writing papers and recording presentations, every facet of learning is powered by technology. 

“A school’s IT support staff must have a great breadth and depth of knowledge of all systems and applications being used in each course to effectively solve a wide variety of requests quickly,” Denton says. “Requests may be as simple as how to install Microsoft Office or as complicated as deciphering the online faculty member’s instructions and assisting with general course navigation.” 

Step up your IT support 

As your institution looks to improve and potentially expand its online program offerings, robust IT support must be a top priority. Technology hiccups and questions are inevitable, but if your IT team is an accessible and reliable resource, you can improve the satisfaction and retention of students and faculty alike. 

If your institution’s IT team is already stretched thin or your current outsourced IT provider is struggling to keep up with the increased demand for support, learn more about the IT help desk services offered by Collegis Education 

Highly trained support specialists provide the foundation for our multi-tiered support system capable of handling calls, emails, chats and web submissions that relate to a broad variety of topics and systems, including application support, course/learning management systems, campus bookstores and libraries and first-level hardware/software problem-resolution and determination. 

Let our IT experts help you strengthen your school’s technology support.

Author: Elise Povejsil

Elise Povejsil is a former marketing manager (content and communications) for Collegis Education. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Conflict Studies from DePauw University.