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Why Instructor Satisfaction Cannot be Ignored

By David Dietrich / February 2015

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The focus of research on eLearning has included such broad topics as the benefits to institutions for offering online courses, the benefits to students of online courses, effectiveness of online instruction, best practices in online teaching, and technological advances to improve online teaching. All of which are important lines of research, help to support the utility, and improve the delivery of online programs. However there is another important element to the online movement in education that, while studied, has not garnered the same research emphasis as these other topics: the satisfaction of online instructors.

With the push for more online courses and programs, students are expecting courses to be offered online and institutions are demanding more from instructors. As an online instructor, it can begin to feel as though we are caught up in the machine of technology-expected to be just another cog connecting mechanical pieces together-rather than independent, creative educators.

Understanding instructor satisfaction is important for several reasons. Both the quality of instruction and student outcomes are impacted by instructor satisfaction. A reciprocal relationship exists between instructor satisfaction and student satisfaction. Students are more likely to be satisfied with their online experience when the instructor is also satisfied. If high-quality online courses and programs are a priority for universities, then instructors must be qualified, motivated, and satisfied with teaching online.

Bolliger, Inan, and Wasilik have developed an instrument to reliably assess instructor satisfaction with online teaching: the Online Instructor Satisfaction Measure (OISM) [1]. Within this instrument are five factors found to be most associated with instructor satisfaction: instructor-to-student interaction; student-to-student interaction; affordances; institutional support; and, online course design, development, and teaching.

Instructor-to-Student Interaction

High levels of interaction with students, along with high-quality interaction, can impact instructor satisfaction and motivation. A concern many novice online instructors share involves feeling less connected to students. The better able instructors are to overcome this fear and find ways to stay connected to students the more satisfied they become. This could take the form of email, synchronous chats, webcams, or telephone contact. All of these tech-based methods can help to bridge the gap created by physical distance between instructor and student. It is important to note the value of high-quality interaction here. Instructors are not likely to be motivated by hundreds of emails from students a day, especially if the content of these emails is superficial. When contact involves quantity and quality, satisfaction increases.

Student-to-Student Interaction

Instructors are more likely to be satisfied when students are actively involved in their own learning. The more students engage with the material and discuss concepts, the higher the level of instructor satisfaction. This often takes the form of interaction between students. When students share their ideas, viewpoints, and experiences with each other, instructors are more satisfied with their course. A common misconception shared by instructors new to eLearning is teaching online creates more distance between students. However, in most online courses, all students are required to participate in discussion boards, or some other form of collaborative learning. When every student is given a chance to take an active role in learning, instructor satisfaction increases.


There are specific benefits to teaching online that impact instructor satisfaction. Online courses offer opportunities for learners of different qualities to prosper. For example, shy students can participate in asynchronous discussions, reducing the amount of anxiety they may feel speaking in a regular classroom full of students. Students with work and family commitments can enjoy the flexibility of online learning. So one affordance for online instructors involves knowing how this delivery platform can open educational doors to many students.

There are also specific benefits for instructors. For example, instructors also enjoy the convenience and flexibility of teaching online. With no specific meeting times, instructors are able to adjust their schedules and work when it is most convenient.

Other affordances include the ability to integrate a variety of resources when teaching online. Electronic resources are numerable for most courses. Textbook publishers are offering more ways to connect electronic audio or video files, interactive e-textbooks, and instructor resources. Instructors are able to creatively present the course material to students. Online courses can be developed to provide highly interactive, supportive, and social instruction.

Institutional Support

Instructors need to feel supported by their institutions. This support could include rewards, such as release time to develop an online course or fair compensation for teaching online. Instructors also need to feel valued by the institution; their satisfaction for online teaching increases when this occurs.

Another means of support from the institution involves providing the adequate tools, training, and technical support to teach online. Reliable and efficient computers are essential for teaching online and should be provided to all instructors. But it is also important to train instructors in how to use these electronic tools. Training should include online pedagogical skills as well as technology skills. Many institutions offer tutorials for using the online delivery platform adopted by the school. However, instructors need to feel as though they can navigate this system to successfully develop and deliver their courses. When things go wrong, instructors need technical support to be available to help correct the problems. A responsive, efficient, and capable tech support department is an important factor in instructor satisfaction.

Institutional policies should also clearly support online teaching. These policies should indicate the value of online courses and programs to the institution. For example, there should be policies in place that make clear how online instructors will be evaluated. These policies need to relate directly to tenure and promotion of online instructors. Also, policies should address the manner in which online instructors will be recognized for superior performance.

Online Course Design, Development, and Teaching

This last category includes several elements that impact instructor satisfaction. The workload associated with teaching online is an important factor in instructor satisfaction. Many instructors feel as though teaching online is much more time consuming that teaching a face-to-face course. When this workload begins to feel overwhelming, instructor satisfaction decreases. Assessment is one of the most time consuming tasks when teaching an online course and also impacts instructor satisfaction. However technology and instructional strategies, when used wisely, may reduce assessment load also. Instructors who use rubrics and online test scoring may be able to reduce some of the time spent on assessment.

Instructors in general are concerned with the quality of their courses. When instructors are not given control over their course, satisfaction declines partly because they cannot control the quality. Some institutions use online courses developed by a separate organization and only managed by a university instructor. This situation is less likely to lead to high instructor satisfaction when the instructor perceives the course as lacking sufficient quality.

There are also student factors that influence instructor satisfaction. When students are highly motivated to achieve, and actually perform at a high level, instructor satisfaction increases. This is not surprising, since student motivation will probably increase the quantity and quality of their interaction with other students and the professor-two factors already discussed as impacting instructor satisfaction. Most instructors view student achievement as a reflection of their own ability to teach the material. It is reasonable to see why high student achievement would relate to high instructor satisfaction.

Ways to Increase Instructor Satisfaction

The factors identified by the developers of the OISM are important in assessing your own satisfaction with teaching online. You can take the OISM to find out the degree to which you are satisfied with your online teaching. The factors identified by this survey can also be used to determine how to increase instructor satisfaction. Knowing these factors can allow you to be proactive in making the most out of your online teaching.

Explore and take advantage of institutional training and support. Be proactive in finding out all of the training opportunities at your institution. When you first begin teaching online, you may have an orientation that introduces you to these opportunities. But it is vital you monitor any new seminars or workshops that become available. This will keep you up to date on the latest technology available at your institution, and encourage you to stay motivated to learn more. In addition to training opportunities, be sure to find out the best ways to get technical support. There may be a phone number or email to use to get immediate help, 24 hours a day. Don't wait until a problem occurs to find out about this support. Connect to this resource as soon as possible, and be ready to take advantage of their services.

Become comfortable with the technology and stay current. Teaching online involves being familiar with the content of the course, but also being familiar with the online delivery platform. At some institutions you will have an orientation to that system, which may include taking a course in teaching online. In many of these courses you are asked to take on the role of student, viewing the course shell as a student would, completing and submitting assignments, and interacting with other students. This is an ideal way to appreciate the perspective of your students, and learn how your delivery platform works.

Advances in technology that impact online teaching occur rapidly. New programs and resources are constantly being developed, any of which could be a great help to your online course. To stay current, plan on attending conferences, reading research, and consulting with other online instructors. Creating this support system will insure you don't get stale in your teaching, which you want to avoid at all cost as stagnation can lead to dissatisfaction.

Stay current on online pedagogical techniques. While it is important to stay current with changes in technology, it is also important to understand which teaching techniques are most effective. Knowing the technology is one aspect, understanding how to get the most out of the technology to effectively engage students is another. For example, student collaboration is a common goal for instructors, whether teaching online or in a face-to-face course. Learning the best ways to create effective student collaboration involves understanding technology and also which methods are the most effective in an online course. Attending conferences, staying current with research, and interacting with other online instructors can help you find out which strategies work best for you.

Advocate for your courses and program to improve institutional support. You should be proactive in working with your immediate supervisor and program administrators to insure proper institutional support. Develop a good relationship with these representatives of your institution to insure that your work is recognized, appreciated, and rewarded. One way to advocate is to make administrators aware of the amount of work and effort that goes into developing and teaching an online course. It is also important to collect data on student satisfaction to provide some evidence for the quality and effectiveness of your course.


Instructor satisfaction with online teaching is an important consideration. When instructors are satisfied with their work, they are more motivated, energetic, and effective. From an institutional point of view, satisfied instructors improve course and program delivery, which in turn helps to make students more satisfied with their learning experience and achieve at a higher rate. The OISM has been developed to help assess instructor satisfaction and the five factors measured by this survey can help individual instructors consider their level of satisfaction. Proactive instructors can use their knowledge of these factors to increase and maintain their satisfaction with teaching online.


[1] Bolliger, D.U., Inan, F.A., and Wasilik, O. Development and validation of the Online Instructor Satisfaction Measure (OISM). Educational Technology & Society 17, 2 (2014), 183-195.

About the Author

Dr. David Dietrich is a licensed psychologist and a counselor educator in the master's program in counseling, a fully online program, at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He previously taught psychology at Lambuth University, a small, private liberal arts college. Lambuth was forced to close in 2009 due to fiscal irresponsibility, at which time Dr. Dietrich joined UTM.

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