Online education viewed through an equity lens: Promoting engagement and success for all learners

Irish A. Farley, Nicholas C. Burbules

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Educational technologies have the potential to expand access to education to a wider range of people, including those currently without access to high-quality learning opportunities. However, this promise is largely unfulfilled (see S. Protopsaltis and S. Baum, Does online education live up to its promise? A look at the evidence and implications for federal policy, 2019, Center for Educational Policy Evaluation). Although technology can remove some barriers, it can also have the opposite effect, creating new inequalities. This meta-synthesis summarises the main findings from current research that documents both structural and instructional barriers; and proposes research-supported best practices in online course design and instruction in order to promote greater student satisfaction and success. Context and implications Rationale for this studyOnline and blended education has the potential to expand educational opportunities for diverse learners; unfortunately, some aspects of online and blended learning environments can be disadvantageous to certain learners, and instructors need to keep this in mind. Why the new findings matterThis review summarises the best research-supported design principles for equitable online learning environments. Implications for practitionersWe discuss first structural issues: environmental, technical and social factors that practically impede access to equitable online learning for many learners (for example, inadequate access to WiFi connectivity). Our main focus in the paper, however, are instructional impediments and specific strategies for addressing them: these are organised under strategies for course design and organisation; strategies for course content; strategies for more social presence and interaction; and strategies for more instructor presence and connection with students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3367
JournalReview of Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • community of inquiry
  • distance education
  • higher education
  • instructional strategies
  • online learning
  • technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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