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Best Practices | Scaffolding Strategies for Student Success


The number one reason to adopt new technology is to “increase student success” according to the 2018 CHLOE Survey of Chief Online Officers (CHLOE 2018, p.47). In any course format, whether online or face-to-face, we strive for students to be successful and demonstrate persistence not to give up or drop out. With the countless number of technologies and digital applications, how do we begin? What techniques or methods are available to the online instructor to retain students and support their learning? Are there straightforward ideas that can easily be implemented to address this concern? One well known cognitive strategy to support student learning and success is scaffolding.

When we talk about scaffolding we have to acknowledge Lev Vygotsky who is synonymous with the terms scaffolding and “zone of proximal development,” the space where a struggling learner gains support from a more knowledgeable other (Fosnot & Perry, 2005). This concept of cognitive scaffolding can… “help learners enhance, augment, and extend their thinking skills…” (Stavredes, 2011, p. 73). Creating scaffolding opportunities can provide learners with the framework to understand complex materials.

This article will provide you with two specific scaffolding examples to support student success: (1) CIRT Start Here Modules and (2) reading/note-taking scaffolds.

The instructional designers in CIRT have created “Course Overview” modules in four different Canvas templates which provide a great deal of procedural scaffolding to help students get started in an online course. These modules consist of UNF institutional support such as academic student support services, accessibility statement, course expectations, library support and more. The introductory modules are designed to provide instructors with pre-packaged content containing the foundational information students need to understand the course structure and find valuable institutional resources. Check out the Canvas templates A-D to see the procedural scaffolding support provided in addition to their overall design differences and descriptions.

The instructional designer team in CIRT can provide you with assistance to begin using any of these templates.

A second type of scaffolding, conceptual scaffolding, helps learners to “to organize it [conceptual knowledge] into meaningful structures that support learning” (Stavardes, 2011, p. 95). During a recent instructional design consultation with Dr. Bess (Hope) Wilson, I discovered she will be using a conceptual scaffolding strategy for a new textbook she is teaching with for her Assessment of Learning and Behavior course. This spring Dr. Wilson will be creating a reading/note-taking guide for her students to support their understanding and refine their focus. Students will be able to use this document to concentrate on key concepts and vocabulary. They will also be able to answer questions to extend their thinking on specific topics. Bess anticipates that this document will also be used for note taking strategies, to promote student accountability, and demonstrate best practices to her learners. Two informative resources for creating study guides are: Utah State University Academic Resource Center, Creating Study Guides and Types of Graphical Organizers, Exhibit 9.2 from the text, Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success by Tina Stavredes, 2011, note that this text is used for CIRT’s Teaching Online Foundation course.

The Cognitive Scaffolding Planning Tool (see image) is also available in this text and provides a quick view of the different types of scaffolding with various examples.

It is important to note there are many individual factors that can attribute to a student’s success. We focused on one type of teaching strategy, scaffolding, as a path to develop supportive online courses. The overall quality of an online course is paramount to student success and is one of the reasons UNF has adopted the Quality Matters course design and review process. See the CIRT website to learn more about UNF’s quality course initiative.

What are your scaffolding tips that support student success? We would love to hear from you. Send a note to Jann Sutton at to share your idea.


Fosnot, C. & Perry, R. (2005). Constructivism: A Psychology Theory of Learning. In C.T. Fosnot (Ed.), Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice 2nd edition (8-38). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Legon, R. & Garrett, R. (2018). The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) 2: A Deeper Dive, Quality Matters & Eduventures Survey of Chief Online Officers, 2018.

Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.