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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2020 / Winter 2021)

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Bridging the affective domain gap for online learners

Figure 1.  Bridging the Affective Domain Gap for Online Learners (photograph by Gratisography on Pexels)


This article examines one school’s approach to synchronous meetings for online classes.  It reviews online students’ feelings of disconnection in the online format, Bloom’s affective domain, and a points-based approach to the synchronous meetings. 

The problem with online learning

Adult students and instructors at a private university in the Midwest mention feeling disconnected from each other and the school when taking classes in the online format.  About 90% adult learners in the accelerated format at this school choose online learning for their degree programs for its convenient format. While the format works well for adult learners, helping them balance family, work, and education, the disconnected feeling is real, like they are outsiders and maybe not ‘real’ students or maybe not getting the ‘real learning experience.’

The faculty (mostly adjunct) at this small, private university also embrace the accelerated online classroom format for its convenience.  While this format works well for faculty, for similar reasons as students note, many of them report feeling like they cannot quite connect with the students; they worry that the online student does not have the understanding of course concepts like that of an in-person student, creating a learning gap between students in the two modalities.

This learning gap calls to attention Benjamin Bloom’s Affective Domain defined as “the realm which emphasizes a feeling tone, an emotion, or a degree of acceptance or rejection” (Krathwohl et al, 1964; qtd in Koballa, 2020). Students learn best when they feel emotionally attached and supported by the teacher.

New focus for online learning

Because of this disconnect, or gap, educators at this small university were faced with the question:  How do we connect affectively with online students (thus narrowing the gap between the online and in-person experience)?

They found the answer within the words “connect” and “affective.” To create the optimal atmosphere for learning, educators realized that they needed to be building relationships with students, and their efforts: the online format of lecture videos, static forum discussions and written instructor feedback fell short of connection and Bloom’s Affective Domain for learning.

At the beginning of 2020, the school’s instructional designer took this question to heart.  She wondered if online synchronous meetings would fill the gap. (Synchronous is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “occurring at the same time”) (2020). To answer the question, she piloted optional synchronous meetings with her adult learners in the online accelerated classroom.  The meetings were optional because students at this university are not required to attend synchronous meetings.  She asked the students to find a time when most of them could meet with her in a live video format.  Here, her goal would be to build a relationship (Affective Domain) with the students and help them connect more strongly to the understanding of course content.  For the students who were unable to meet at the specific time, she recorded the class meeting to be watched later and embedded discussion questions for those students to discuss in the LMS forum. 

Her synchronous class meeting assignment follows:

Weekly Synchronous Class Discussions: 

This class holds weekly meetings through Zoom (in place of a weekly forum) in a synchronous fashion, to discuss the course concepts and upcoming assignments. The instructor and students work together to create a day/time of the week to meet for 1 hour for class discussion. If students are unable to attend the Class Discussion, they can make up these points by watching the recorded meeting (which will be posted to the Forum space the morning after it takes place) and answering the questions from the video within the Forum space. Please observe the following points for Class Discussions:

  • Before the class discussion: Have something to say! Before the meeting takes place, be sure to read the assigned material that will be discussed (which will appear in the posted agenda) so that you can prepare ahead of time for what you will contribute to the meeting. 
  • During our class discussion: Contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. Ask questions of those who are contributing, reference the assigned readings. You will not get credit for this activity if you 1) remain silent, 2) only reiterate others’ contributions, or 3) only ‘agree’ or ‘good point’ yourself through the session. The Class Discussion will be recorded and posted to the weekly Forum for later viewing if desired. 
  • Missed the class discussion? Students unable to make the Synchronous Class Discussion are able to earn Class Discussion points by watching the recorded meeting and answering, in the weekly Forum, the questions provided by the instructor in that recording; due Sundays, midnight.
  • There are absolutely NO makeups for Class Discussions (or Forum activity) after the Sunday deadline as these do not benefit anyone in the class. It is highly encouraged that you make time to participate in the Synchronous Class Discussion.

The outcome

The pilot was successful.  The instructional designer heard students saying that they enjoyed getting to know the classmates behind the avatar picture in the static forums, appreciated the real-time give-and-take discussion with the instructor, and gained a stronger understanding of the assignments and course concepts.  With such success, the instructional designer and her team pitched the Synchronous Meeting idea to faculty. The idea caught on quickly. Within the time frame of two accelerated terms, instructors using synchronous meetings increased from 1 in 24 instructors to 10 in 24 instructors!

Number of faculty using Weekly Synchronous (Synch) Meetings. Summer courses not reporting.


Number of Instructors Using Synch Meetings

Number of Courses Offered in the Term

Percentage using Synch Meetings

2020 Spring 3

2 (Pilots)



2020 Fall 1




2020 Fall 2




2020 Fall 3




2021 Spring 1 




Noteworthy outcomes (Benjamin Bloom was right!)

One instructor reported:

We have weekly Zoom sessions in [our business management course]. The session replaces the traditional discussion forum. When we meet, I create groups and assign a question to each group. I provide a page out of their text [for reference]. [I place students] into breakout rooms, usually 2 or 3 students in each room. In addition to finding the correct answer, they must expand on the subject with something from the textbook page. I ask that they paraphrase the author and cite their source by paragraph. As they report back to the class, I encourage the other groups to ask questions. 

During the meeting, we ask a question to the students who did not attend. They must answer this question in the traditional forum, and we all respond to them.  

For the last week of the course, I asked the breakout groups to make a list of strengths and weaknesses of this online accelerated course. The Zoom session was overwhelmingly the number one strength. 
In addition to being an effective teaching tool, it has been fun. 

Lessons learned

The instructors learned lessons from the initial groups implementing synchronous meetings for the adult accelerated online learner.  

  1. The instructor must have a plan. Students quickly detect an instructor who is merely turning on the conference camera with no plan.  
  2. The instructor should embrace discussion, limiting instruction time to 5 or 6 minute segments to clarify core concepts students have already learned through textbook chapter reading and/or posted instructional videos.  
  3. Instructors should ensure every student asks or answers questions or offers new insights thus demonstrating participation.  
  4. Students and instructors should keep their cameras on to ensure the affective connection.


The online synchronous meetings bridge the gap between in-person learning and the online learning, creating the affective domain which allows students to connect with each other and the instructor; and thus, more deeply connect to the course concepts. This university anticipates the online synchronous meeting trend to continue to grow with each new term.


Krathwohl, D. R., B. S. Bloom, & B. B. Masia. (1964). Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals, handbook II: affective domain. David McKay Company, New York.

Koballa, Thomas. (2020). Framework for the affective domain in science education.  SERC. University of Georgia.

Oxford Languages. (2020). Oxford University Press.

About the Author 

Tereasa Gilmore lives with her family of four in the Kansas City area where she has taught written and oral communication to adult learners since 1999. Currently, she serves as the Chair of Undergraduate Programs for Baker University's School of Professional and Graduate Studies.  

Dr. Gilmore's email is  

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