With online learning becoming a large part of studying as a result of the shift caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to understand and learn from the experience of online students.

Dr Gulcan Garip, Academic Lead in Psychology at the University of Derby, and graduate Sanju Rusara Seneviratne, explore the experiences of online psychology students engaging in online learning in pursuit of a career change, with educators having a responsibility to create opportunities, enhance motivation, and improve skills for students to become self-regulated learners.

‘Online learning’ refers to any form of learning and teaching through a primarily electronic medium (e.g. via Blackboard, Moodle, etc.; Yanuschik et al., 2015; Mayer, 2018). While online learning has made education accessible to those previously restricted by factors such as geographic location or employment, research has identified concerns related to student engagement (Prior et al. 2016), retention rates (Mubarak et al., 2020; Jo et al., 2015), and reported perceptions of missing out on traditional classroom experiences (Ragusa, 2017; Martinez et al., 2020).

Current trends indicate that a greater proportion of students engage in online learning than in the past (Li et al., 2019), which prompted us to explore the lived experiences of students studying psychology.

Our study was designed, conducted, and analysed according to the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA; Smith & Osborn, 2008), which “invite[s] participants to offer a rich, detailed, first-person account of their experiences” (Smith et al., 2009, p. 56).

The ‘balancing act of online learners’ was identified as the overarching theme in our qualitative study. Here are our top three tips for students and educators to encourage self-regulated learning:

Creating an online learner identity

A sense of identity allows you to establish yourself as an online learner when approaching prioritisation of tasks and managing time with work and family commitments.

For example, students can establish clear goals and identify intrinsic motivators for pursuing an online degree. This sense of identity allows you to set expectations and regulate time and resources effectively from the perspective of being an online student.

Students who develop a strong sense of identity as an online learner tend to perceive their experiences as positive and are more motivated to complete their course.

Educators could, therefore, make this a focus in tasks for incoming students as a sense of identity is especially important when juggling multiple commitments.

For example, tutors can act as motivators to encourage clear goals and support students in identifying their personal motivators and how they can approach their online learning experience.

It is often the case that online learners without a sense of identity to promote self-regulation can struggle with time management and staying motivated.

Clarity and familiarity with online resources

There may be an expectation to compare or expect similarities to on-campus study. While there are some similarities, it is important to become familiar with the nuances of online study, i.e. how to use library resources, how to access support, where to post your discussion responses. All of these help remove the uncertainty and allow technology to be used to support and organise study rather than it being a big unknown and unfamiliar context.

Students typically use on-campus study as a frame of reference when approaching their online learning experience. Based on this, we recommend that educators focus on clarity and adapting to student needs and preferences when presenting online resources.

The expectations of online learning should be differentiated from those of on-campus study that students may be familiar with to avoid setting unrealistic expectations that can be demotivating and alienate new online learners.

Developing platforms for interaction with peers and tutors

Despite differing preferences in our participants regarding online interaction with peers and tutors, students were more fulfilled and had a more positive experience when they established a relationship with peers and tutors.

This was especially true for collaborative learning, wherein students supported one another with resources and encouragement. Despite hailing from varied backgrounds, there was a similarity that they shared in their experiences and struggles that was valued and allowed for better self-regulation of learning.

If you feel hesitant about what to ask and how to approach tutors, sometimes taking the first step with peers will help you overcome that difficulty.

The experience of online study can be isolating. With this in mind, it is important to create a platform for students to interact with peers and tutors.

This can be via social media or through discussion groups on the learning management system. Social interactions are important for students both with peers and with tutors. Students often struggle with how to approach tutors, what constitutes a stupid question, for example.

This can be focused on in supporting students make that leap as a close mentorship is important. Enabling students to take charge and support one another also contributed to improved experience.

Managing expectations and building confidence

Research has established the importance of the e-learning environment in creating and maintaining positive learning attitudes, specifically an environment that considers student preferences and is adapted to specific learning situations (e.g. Wongwatkit et al., 2020; Zhu et al., 2020; Larmuseau et al., 2018).

Interestingly, in our study all participants but one spontaneously used ‘on-campus’ study as a reference point when sharing their experiences and perceptions related to online learning.

Providers and educators that use campus-based learning as a reference point when presenting resources and opportunities in online learning may be contributing to unrealistic expectations of online learning and the fear of missing out on-campus-based learning.

The freedom and flexibility of online learning were viewed as facilitators, whereas feelings of isolation and the lack of face-to-face interaction with peers and lecturers were generally seen as a disadvantage of studying online.


The study identified several facilitators and barriers to studying psychology online. It was also suggested that educators may be able to reinforce and highlight these experiences as contributing to developing a self-regulated learner identity.

Online educators can design teaching and learning materials that create opportunities and foster capability and motivation, as well as setting expectations and putting contingencies in place to counter factors that might hinder students’ self-regulated learning experiences.

Dr Gulcan Garip, Academic Lead in Psychology at the University of Derby, and graduate Sanju Rusara Seneviratne

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page