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ADCET UDL Symposium: Linking CONNECT and UDL to support postgraduate online learners

The recordings will be added here in late September

Online presentation

Dr Tracey Ahern, Tracey Gooding and Narelle Biedermann, James Cook University

Online learning courses have become increasingly popular in higher education in recent years, offering busy professionals more learning opportunities for career development and upskilling. However, these environments can be isolating, and difficult to engage in particularly if the course is not intentionally designed and delivered to promote a sense of connection, community and belonging.  In Australia despite student enrolments in online courses rising faster than those offered on-campus, retention rates for online courses remain noticeably lower. The published literature suggests building a student’s sense of belonging can enhance student engagement, success, and retention in online learning.

Academics from James Cook University have developed a framework to guide teaching staff to build social presence and connectedness in 100% online learning courses. The CONNECT framework, a set of practical, evidence-based strategies used to create a supportive environment and promote a greater sense of connectedness in online postgraduate nursing courses was recently published by the authors. In this presentation, we will discuss CONNECT, with reference to a range of practical strategies used to promote social presence and connectedness in online learning at the course level, while also demonstrating links to the principles of universal design for learning (UDL). In alignment with UDL, diverse methods to engage, challenge, and motivate learners in a way that nurtures educational and professional growth are recognised as key elements for creating quality learning experiences for our online student cohort.

Testimonials from students will also be included in this presentation providing another dimension to demonstrate how the strategies used by staff can create an environment in which students feel a sense of belonging, while building their educational and professional capabilities in the field of nurse leadership, nursing education and advanced nursing practice.


Dr Tracey Ahern is a Registered Nurse and Senior Lecturer at James Cook University (JCU). She is currently Course Coordinator of JCU's Postgraduate Nursing Online courses. Dr Ahern's research interests include women's health, nurse education, and online learning. Through their work over several years in 100% online learning courses, Dr Ahern and colleagues developed CONNECT: a framework to guide teaching staff to build social presence and connectedness in online learning. In today's presentation, the aim is to demonstrate how CONNECT links to the principles of UDL, while exploring practical strategies used to promote social connectedness in online postgraduate nursing courses.

(June 2024)