Are my students actually visitors?

As a teacher, I think about the visitor and resident spectrum (White & Le Cornu, 2011) in relation to my students and what I wrote in my previous post about residency being about learning the rules and becoming comfortable within a digital space. I teach a couple of courses that are given online to students with a fairly wide variety of backgrounds and on fairly common topics. One of them is in project management and the other is in teams and leadership. The courses are aimed at people who want to learn more about the specific topic, and have taken at least a semester of university courses before. The assumption is that most of the people who sign up have an occupation in which the course topic fits as “kompetensutveckling” or that they are putting together their own bachelor’s degree through mainly online courses. In addition, I see a relatively small number of students who take these courses as part of our university’s bachelor’s in BA or similar. I have therefore viewed the student group as a majority of “outsiders” who are not used to our LMS, our university rules, or even university courses, and a minority who are used to all of this.

What I am thinking about now, after combing my insights from the visitor and resident spectrum (White & Le Cornu, 2011), is that I view the majority of the students in these courses as visitors in my course, while not always treating them as such. I have organized the course introductions with information on how the LMS works, what they need to do and try to give them as much information as humanly possible before they start with the content of the course. And still I keep getting questions about how to solve the same problems, meaning that my information does not get through. It also suggests that some questions need to be asked regardless of the amount of information provided.

Now I am thinking that part of my courses could be the insight that not everyone is used to a learning platform and that I can provide my students with a safe space to learn about this digital space instead of just the course topic. This means that I will think about how to gradually ease my students into using the LMS and to incorpate different practical interactions and skills as part of their learning. The Working out loud method that we discussed in the PBL could be used for that, were one part is to gradually introduce more interactive parts; from liking, to posting, to discussing, to co-creating.


White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9)

Further insights into the resident and visitor model can be found here:

14 responses to “Are my students actually visitors?”

  1. This is a very interesting post that explores how you viewed learners in your online courses as visitors. I love the fact that the visitor resident model has led you to rethinking how you will introduce the digital spaces you want your learners to become resident in. This introduction should encourage them to leave traces. I would add that WOL requires a cohort model, similar to ONL, to allow communication and interaction between you and your learners and between your learners. I also like that it has made you think about new ways to answer the common questions your learners ask.

    • I agree David, WOL does require a cohort model, and in my specific case I think it’s fairly easy to estabish cohorts. As far as I remembers a cohort model would mean that there are enough people to create groups in which the students (and I) can learn together and that there is sufficient possibility to do so technically, meaning that the students should have the right tools. Or are you thinking about something different when you say cohort model?

  2. I learned last term that great reflections are the ones that made you stop and think while reading, and that has just happened to me:) We are from the same institution and I have recently seen some statistics showing that almost 1/4 of our students are first-generation university students meaning that they might lack prior knowledge about being a “resident” in a university for starters. I totally agree that they need more guidance in seeking information, planning their education and their time, asking for help, etc. Getting to know our students is a great first step in providing the needed support and it was enriching to read about yours together with your insights, thanks a lot for sharing!

    • Thakn you Selen! Good with some stats to prove my point 🙂 And as you say, most of the students in the asynchronous courses are not even residents in uni studies, regardsless of if it is online or not. And I think it will benefit myself as well as them to consider that aspect closely – it will make me calmer when answering questions and helping and it will hopefully make the visit at a university less stressful for them.

  3. I can absolutely relate to your experience through my own practice. As an institutional HR developer, my participants are also not classic BSc students who are familiar with the learning platforms (respectively there are big differences). More effort is needed to introduce the tools and to encourage participation. I think integrating elements of working out loud could be an interesting option. I am furthermore convinced that in every course we all do not just learn something about the topic, but as a positive side effect we also get to know new tools and methods. I hope that your students appreciate this and the effort you make to provide information and a safe (learning) space!

  4. Hi Caroline,
    You article’s catchy title brought me here. The topics you teach falls under Professional Development (I had to google “kompetensutveckling”), and you shared that your learner group include “outsiders” who may not be used to LMS set up.

    While Topic 1 taught us not to assume that all younger students to be residents, the usual suspects are working adults (visitors).

    But have you considered that some of your own students (residents) are just lazy and chose to skip reading the instructions?

    Sometimes I am guilty of the above, e.g. choosing to go straight to IT helpdesk instead of reading nicely set up FAQs.

    Does this mean that the information isn’t well organized? No.

    Does it mean that some learners are just not used to LMS yet? Maybe. As you pointed out, what can we do about it to make things better?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll be back.
    – Ben (PBL04)

    • Hi Ben,
      and thank you for your thoughts on this!

      I was quick with “kompetensutveckling” – could have googled it myself 🙂 Just to clarify, the course is a university course and those taking it get university credits for it. However, several of my students take the course as a form of professional development.

      Just as you say, some students are of course lazy. This was more a reflection on my end to think about that all of them are not neccessairly lazy, some of them are visitors in the LMS and visitors in the realm of online courses in general. And in for these students (and the lazy ones as well) I think it is valuable to think one more time, not just about what information we give our students, but also how and when. I believe that many teachers often assume that students are primarily lazy, because it is also easier for us.

      For me this thought has become even more relevant after the second topic, because I do belive thinking about this is one way (of many possible ones) to think about how to make online courses open and equal to all that are taking them.

  5. I resonate with this. It is challenging to convert visitors to residents. I also want my students to engage online and be residents rather than just visitors. I like the last paragraph of your blog

    – “Working out loud method that we discussed in the PBL could be used for that, were one part is to gradually introduce more interactive parts; from liking, to posting, to discussing, to co-creating.”

  6. Thanks for this reflection Caroline! I think after topic 3 and 4 you will have even more insights in how to design an online course.

  7. My students see themself as customers and want the best service possible. I have been working for a long time trying to teach them that they have to take responsibility for their studies. However, it is still a common view that they want to be served everything.

    If I do not give the students very clear instructions on what they need to do, and how, they start to send me emails and I get a lot of questions. So, for my own best I think seeing the students as customers is appropriate. Especially if you have 600 students on a course.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. I’m sorry you are having this negative experience with your students, I read that you are feeling discouraged by it.

      I do however think that you are misunderstanding me, I’m not sure how to fit seeing oneself as a customer as part of the visitor-resident spectrum. If you want to, please elaborate on how you make that connection!

      What I was aiming for, was a reflection on my own practice teaching online and asynchronous courses, and that just providing more and more information might not be the correct way to go for me. Instead, I could let go of the expectation that a “perfect” course has no questions that I feel are otiose because the answer can be found somewhere on the LMS. So, what I’m changing in my practice is to assume that not all students are used to the LMS and give them a chance to get to know the system gradually, not giving all information on exactly where to find what and how at once, and to encourage them to use the LMS not just consume what is on there. This is where I think the WOL method could have several benefits.
      What you do is of course up to you!

  8. Here you relate the visitor-resident scale to your students and your teaching. You see that most of your students are visitor in this educational context. Then you realize that you are not always treating them accordingly, even though you have handed them a lot of information. You have now set a plan to help them successively join, feel safe and participate – and contribute – in our course. This sounds wonderful and I’d like to hear more about this later on!



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