Student Online Loneliness

This week I received a question from a faculty designing their summer course on "how we can assist students to overcome the loneliness and pressure brought about by the current learning environment?" It seems this is a timely and important topic, which I will share suggestions from the literature. There is research that correlates student loneliness to academic performance in this 2017 dissertation by Copeland. Martin and Bolliger (2018) found "student engagement increases student satisfaction, enhances student motivation to learn, reduces the sense of isolation, and improves student performance in online courses."

The Chronicle of Higher Ed published an article on How to Help Students Online (March 26, 2020) by McMurtrie. In this, the author recommends:

  1. Be proactive. Reach out to all of your students early, and often.

  2. Be as low-tech as possible.

  3. Be authentic in your interactions.

  4. Hold virtual office hours.

  5. Be flexible, but not too flexible.

  6. Turn to experts on your campus (particularly in Centers for Teaching and Learning)

Inside Higher Ed posted a recent (March 17, 2020) article entitled, Hope Matters: Strategies to Help Online Students by Imad. Suggestions include:

  1. Email your students to remind them that you are still there for them.

  2. Tell them how you are shifting your schedule to deal with the new situation and that change is part of life. Humanize yourself and make it casual and lighthearted.

  3. Reflect on the notion of rigor and continue to challenge and support your students. As instructors, we often must balance rigor and support. Establishing continuity doesn’t mean you increase the amount of work required of them.

  4. Use hopeful and optimistic language.

  5. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. If possible, talk about COVID-19 and fear.

  6. Remember that students have left behind more than just their classes and academics.

  7. Let your students know that you are there and that if they need help to reach out to you.

  8. Most important, ask each of your students how you can help them.

The Global Online Academy posted an article on Strategies for Online Learning When Campus is Closed (February 6, 2020). In this, they suggested:

  1. Know your students’ tech capabilities and what support is available to them (digital equity).

  2. Communicate often, clearly, and consistently. When it comes to content, be a curator, not a dumper (Cognitive load theory).

  3. Think creatively and strategically about assessment. (focus on formative assessments, proctoring is impractical, instead consider writings, infographics, presentations via video, oral assessments via video chat). They provide 75 digital assessment tools.

  4. Be intentional and explicit about timing and pacing.

  5. Ask students for regular feedback.

Finally, Abdul-Alim provides Ways to Keep Human Connections When Moving Learning Online, where he suggest that we should simplify and be flexible; look for ways to build an online community; and keep the big picture in mind.


Copeland, J. (2017). Loneliness and student health: Replication and exploratory analysis. UNF Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 767. Retrieved from

Martin, F. & Bolliger, D.U. (2018). Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of engagement strategies in the online learning environment. Online Learning 22(1), 205-222. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.1092

McMurtie, B. (2020). How to help students online. Chronicle of Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Imad, M. (2020). Hope matters: Strategies to help online students. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Global Online Academy (2020). Strategies for online learning when campus is closed. Retrieved from

Abdul- Alim, J. (2020). Ways to keep human connections when moving learning online. Retrieved from

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