Lessons from a Leader in Online Learning


Online courses are growing exponentially, more than tripling in the last decade and now constitute a third of total university enrollment in the USA. In this environment, it is critical that your course can compete with the best. Marlene Dixon, Professor of Sport Management at Troy University, is a leader in this field and offers insight into the best practices of leading an online program.

About Marlene Dixon

  • Professor of Sport Management at Troy University
  • B.A. from Trinity University
  • M.Ed. from The University of Texas at Austin
  • Ph.D. in Sport Management from The Ohio State University
  • President-elect of NASSM
  • Editorial Board Member of Journal of Sport Management & Sport Management Education Journal
  • Captain of her College Basketball team
  • Coach of several NCAA Conference Championship Volleyball & Basketball teams

1. Focus on Community Building

Student engagement is key. Marlene utilizes discussion boards and live interaction online with an effective balance between group work and individual effort. “I love to get students discussing an issue and thinking from alternative perspectives. Often group work is heavily relied on in other programs. However, too much group work constrains the independence of an online setting, especially when students are located literally across the world.”

2. Build Strong Rapport and Connect with Students

Student-instructor communication is a critical component of student satisfaction. Commit to regular, meaningful feedback to generate strong rapport. “I dedicate the first two weeks to get to know my students and set up expectations for the class. We often share what sport teams we are fans of or what kinds of foods we like. As the course progresses, it gives us talking points beyond the class so we can build a strong connection and students know I care.”

3. Quality Content is Key

“Last Spring I delivered an ‘old fashioned’ read the text, analyze and respond to the content, and discuss as a class. It received fabulous reviews because the content was so strong and they learned a lot. Many course designers attempt to pump engagement through excessive content with fancy bells and whistles – but it is the quality of the content that drives the course. Review readings to ensure they are relevant, readable and provocative.”

 “To me, delivery is the frosting on the content cake.”


4. Optimize Discussions Boards

Use discussion boards well to create a classroom experience. Choose discussion topics that invite questions, reflections and responses. “It is essential that students move beyond “good post, you make some great points” and actually engage in critical discussion. This lends new perspectives and insights. It’s also important to set some ground rules such that criticism is leveled at the issues, not the person.”

5. Realistic and Balanced Workload

A trap to avoid is compensating for not being an in-person program by providing vast amounts of material. Define a workload range and stay within it. “Students absolutely demand clear expectations and a balanced workload. That is, the more you expect of them, the more they expect from you in terms of input and feedback.”

Professor Dixon had previously used Athlete Assessments’ Sports ManagerDISC Profiles in her Human Resources and Organizational Behavior classes at University of Texas and now in her Sport Management capstone class at Troy University.

This article was featured in our latest People+Sport Magazine: Team Success Edition.

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Bo Hanson’s career within the sport and the business sector spans over 25 years, delivering leadership, management, and coach development. In addition to his own athletic career comprising of four Olympic appearances and including three Olympic medals, Bo has worked for many years with coaches and athletes from over 40 different sports across the globe. Bo was also the winner of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) 2023 Award for L&D Professional of the Year, for his dedication to L&D and transformational work across various industries.

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