Students’ experiences of synchronous online tuition in health and social care

  • Kathy Chandler Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, UK
Keywords: synchronous online learning, higher education, community of inquiry, narrative research


This article considers the online tutorial experiences of 10 female undergraduate students studying a health and social care module at a large UK-based university that specialises in distance learning. The research uses the Community of Inquiry as a theoretical framework and takes an experience-centred narrative approach, using Voice-Centred Relational Method to analyse diaries and interviews. The analysis uncovers how tutorial experiences are embedded in the social and cultural contexts of students’ lives and are fitted around their caring roles. These students experience variation in tutorial design and in the tutors’ characteristics. They value friendly, empathetic tutors who enable students’ contributions and respond encouragingly. Students avoid using microphones in tutorials for multiple reasons but enjoy taking an active part via other tools. They appreciate hearing peers’ perspectives and prefer small group sizes. A sense of community is missing, particularly for students with fewer supportive friends, colleagues, or family members. They long to see people’s faces and build relationships. An awareness of students’ contexts and preferences can help educators to enable positive tutorial experiences.


Download data is not yet available.


Athabasca University. (no date) ‘About the framework: an introduction to the Community of Inquiry’, The Community of Inquiry. Available at:

Baughan, P. (2017) The Use of Narrative Inquiry as an Approach for Exploring Student Accounts about Their Own Learning, Sage, London. doi: 10.4135/9781526421098

Bayne, S. (2008) ‘Uncanny spaces for higher education: teaching and learning in virtual worlds’, Research in Learning Technology, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 197–205. doi: 10.1080/09687760802526749

Berry, S. (2017) ‘Student support networks in online doctoral programs: exploring nested communities’, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, vol. 12, pp. 033–048. doi: 10.28945/3676

Berry, S. (2019) ‘Teaching to connect: community-building strategies for the virtual classroom’, Online Learning, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 164–183. doi: 10.24059/olj.v23i1.1425

Bondi, S. et al., (2016) ‘Learning through personal connections: cogenerative dialogues in synchronous virtual spaces’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 301–312. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2016.1141288

Breeze, K. & Holford, N. (2021) ‘Creating playful spaces for collaborative development of online teaching capacity’, Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 10. doi: 10.14297/jpaap.v9i2.485

Brown, L.M. & Gilligan, C. (1991) ‘Listening for voice in narratives of relationship’, New Directions for Child Development, vol. 54, pp. 43–62. doi: 10.1002/cd.23219915405

Caskurlu, S. et al., (2020) ‘A meta-analysis addressing the relationship between teaching presence and students’ satisfaction and learning’, Computers & Education, vol. 157, p. 103966. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2020.103966

Chandler, K. (2016) ‘Using breakout rooms in synchronous online tutorials’, Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 4(3), pp.16–23. doi:10.14297/jpaap.v4i3.216

Cousin, G. (2009) Researching Learning in Higher Education: An Introduction to Contemporary Methods and Approaches, Routledge, New York.

Edwards, M., Perry, B. & Janzen, K. (2011) ‘The making of an exemplary online educator’, Distance Education, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 101–118. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2011.565499

Foronda, C. & Lippincott, C. (2014) ‘Graduate nursing students’ experience with synchronous, interactive videoconferencing within online courses’, Quarterly Review of Distance Education, vol. 15, no. 2, p. 5.

Garrison, D.R. (2009) ‘Communities of inquiry in online learning’, in Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, 2nd edn, eds P.L. Rogers, G.A. Berg, J.V. Boettcher, et al., IGI Global, Hershey, PA, pp. 352–355.

Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (1999) ‘Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: computer conferencing in higher education’, The Internet and Higher Education, vol. 2, no. 2–3, pp. 87–105. doi: 10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6

Garrison, D.R., Archer, W. & Anderson, T. (2011) E-learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice, Taylor & Francis, New York.

Gauvreau, S.A. et al., (2016) ‘Online professional skills workshops: perspectives from distance education graduate students’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, vol. 17, no. 5, pp. 91–108. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v17i5.2024

Gedera, D.S.P. (2014) ‘Students’ experiences of learning in a virtual classroom’, International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 93–101.

Gilligan, C. et al., (2003) ‘On the listening guide: a voice-centred relational method’, in Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives on Methodology and Design, eds P.M. Camic, J.E. Rhodes & L. Yardley, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, pp. 157–172.

Gourlay, L. & Oliver, M. (2018) Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial Assemblages, Routledge, Abingdon.

Guichon, N. & Cohen, C. (2014) ‘The impact of the webcam on an online L2 interaction’, Canadian Modern Language Review, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 331–354. doi: 10.3138/cmlr.2102

Han, H. (2013) ‘Do nonverbal emotional cues matter? Effects of video casting in synchronous virtual classrooms’, American Journal of Distance Education, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 253–264. doi: 10.1080/08923647.2013.837718

Hesse-Biber, S.N. & Leavy, P. (2011) The Practice of Qualitative Research, 2nd edn, Sage, London.

Hokanson, S.C. et al., (2019) ‘A study of synchronous, online professional development workshops for graduate students and postdocs reveals the value of reflection and community building’, Innovative Higher Education, vol. 44, no. 5, pp. 385–398. doi: 10.1007/s10755-019-9470-6

Jones, C.R. (2005) ‘Nobody knows you’re a dog. What amounts to context in networked learning?’, in Education in cyberspace, eds R. Land & S. Bayne, RoutledgeFalmer, Abingdon, pp. 105–116.

Levy, M. (2015) ‘The role of qualitative approaches to research in CALL contexts: closing in on the learner’s experience’, CALICO Journal, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 554–568. doi: 10.1558/cj.v32i3.26620

Lowe, T., Mestel, B. & Williams, G. (2016) ‘Perceptions of online tutorials for distance learning in mathematics and computing’, Research in Learning Technology, vol. 24, no. 1, p. 30630. doi: 10.3402/rlt.v24.30630

Martin, F., Parker, M.A. & Deale, D.F. (2012) ‘Examining interactivity in synchronous virtual classrooms’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 227–261. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v13i3.1174

Mauthner, N.S. & Doucet, A. (1998) ‘Reflections on a voice-centred relational method: analysing maternal and domestic voices’, in Feminist dilemmas in qualitative research, eds J. Ribbens & R. Edwards, Sage, London, pp. 119–146.

McBrien, J.L., Cheng, R. & Jones, P. (2009) ‘Virtual spaces: employing a synchronous online classroom to facilitate student engagement in online learning’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 1–17. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v10i3.605

McDaniels, M., Pfund, C. & Barnicle, K. (2016) ‘Creating dynamic learning communities in synchronous online courses: one approach from the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning’, Teaching and Learning, vol. 1, no. 20, pp. 110–129. doi: 10.24059/olj.v20i1.518

McDougall, J. (2019) ‘“I never felt like I was alone”: a holistic approach to supporting students in an online, pre-university programme’, Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 241–256. doi: 10.1080/02680513.2019.1583098

Middleton, D. & Smith, D. (2013) ‘“It needs to be better than face-to-face”: introducing Elluminate into a social sciences distance learning programme’, Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 3–14. doi: 10.11120/elss.2013.00016

Morris, S.M. & Friend, C. (2020) ‘Listening for student voices’, in Critical Digital Pedagogy: A Collection, eds J. Stommel, C. Friend & S.M. Morris, Hybrid Pedagogy Inc. Available at:

Muilenburg, L.Y. & Berge, Z.L. (2005) ‘Student barriers to online learning: a factor analytic study’, Distance Education, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 29–48. doi: 10.1080/01587910500081269

O’Flaherty, J.A. & Laws, T.A. (2014) ‘Nursing student’s evaluation of a virtual classroom experience in support of their learning bioscience’, Nurse Education in Practice, vol. 14, no. 6, pp. 654–659. doi: 10.1016/j.nepr.2014.07.004

Orlikowski, W.J. (2007) ‘Sociomaterial practices: exploring technology at work’, Organization Studies, vol. 28, no. 9, pp. 1435–1448. doi: 10.1177/0170840607081138

Richardson, J.C. et al., (2017) ‘Social presence in relation to students’ satisfaction and learning in the online environment: a meta-analysis’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 71, pp. 402–417. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.02.001

Riessman, C.K. (1993) Narrative Analysis, Sage, London.

Smith, D. & Smith, K. (2014) ‘The case for “passive” learning – the “silent” community of online learners’, European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 85–98. doi: 10.2478/eurodl-2014-0021

Stommel, J. (2018) ‘The march of the MOOCS: monstrous open online courses’, in An urgency of teachers: the work of critical digital pedagogy, eds S.M. Morris & J. Stommel, Hybrid Pedagogy Inc, pp. 113–116.

Thomas, G. & Thorpe, S. (2019) ‘Enhancing the facilitation of online groups in higher education: a review of the literature on face-to-face and online group-facilitation’, Interactive Learning Environments, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 62–71. doi: 10.1080/10494820.2018.1451897

Twining, P. et al., (2017) ‘Some guidance on conducting and reporting qualitative studies’, Computers & Education, vol. 106, pp. A1–A9. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2016.12.002

Yamagata-Lynch, L.C. (2014) ‘Blending online asynchronous and synchronous learning’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 189–213. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v15i2.1778
How to Cite
ChandlerK. (2022). Students’ experiences of synchronous online tuition in health and social care. Research in Learning Technology, 30.
Original Research Articles