Integrating Microsoft Office 365 to Enhance Teaching and Learning in a Distance Education Program

Many institutions and organizations have enterprise architectures in place to enable faculty and instructional designers to make strategic decisions to embed secure technologies into course design. Enterprise solutions afford learners and educators with the technical support, quality assurance and training necessary to apply within their context (Schwartz, 2004).  Recently, The Pennsylvania State University acquired Microsoft Office 365 (O365) as an enterprise solution to “create, collaborate, and innovate through a host of email, calendaring, and premier applications that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, at any time, on any device.” ( 

Online distance education instructional designs are well situated to push the parameters of innovation through emerging technologies, iterative design processes, and student-centered learning. As such, the Lifelong Learning and Adult Education graduate program with World Campus has strategically adopted and implemented a myriad of the O365 applications to support instruction and learning. The Online Program Coordinator and Director of the American Center of Distance Education, Dr. William Diehl, and World Campus Instructional Designer, Rebecca Heiser, have partnered together to evaluate the appropriateness of the O365 applications to support of the alignment of learning objectives to assessment strategies, the context in which the application is used in the course and the quality of the user experience.  

In the ADTED 470, Introduction to Distance Education, students are utilizing Microsoft’s Teams to work together in an informal learning space to complete a group project. In online learning environments, learners are often confronted with a sense of isolation and are challenged to establish interpersonal contact with their instructors and other learners (Aragon, 2003). However, Teams enables learners to feel more social presence by utilizing various forms of media file attachments, synchronous video through a Skype integration, informal emoji’s and gifs, and color indicators to identify who’s active online. In addition to Teams, the Lifelong Learning and Adult Education program has adopted tools in the Canvas LTI including Collaborations and Office 365 to streamline the applications into the Canvas learning environments. In ADTED 532, Research and Evaluation in Distance Education, learners are utilizing Collaborations to work on an all-class annotated bibliography utilizing Microsoft Word in real-time. The capstone course, ADTED 588, Professional Seminar: Research and Adult Education, learners are actively using the Office 365 Canvas LTI to share ongoing progress on their Master’s Research Paper through OneDrive. OneDrive has not only streamlined the feedback loop from the instructor, but it has offered students the opportunity to reflect on their learning process. Finally, the program has adopted Microsoft Sway and Forms to scale ongoing improvements and updates including midcourse surveys, instructor recommendation forms, and a new, dynamic homepage dashboard. 

By taking a systemic approach, the program developed a Sharepoint site and Team space for online instructors to share best practices, access faculty development opportunities, review course and program documentation, and request just-in-time support. Applications like Planner, Tasks, and Flow have helped us manage projects on tight timeframes and streamline our research and course development processes. By adopting Microsoft 0365 across the program, it has centralized not only communication and management processes across a displaced team, but also has facilitated teaching and learning for our instructors and learners.  

Finally, we welcome you to join us in an exploratory research study, Microsoft Office 365 Applications for Teaching and Learning, designed to investigate the early adoption and implementation of O365 applications for teaching and learning. In this study, we aim (1) to investigate what Microsoft Office 365 applications are most useful to support and enhance teaching and learning, and (2) identify faculty and student preferences utilizing Microsoft Office 365 applications. We are working with a research team consisting of Instructional Designers across the University to review use-cases, strategies and lessons-learned as we begin to adopt and implement these applications into course design. 

In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about these applications, we encourage you to view our OneNote space that was created for Canvas Day 2019. This OneNote page includes resources and examples listing how others across the University are utilizing O365 to enhance their course design.  




Aragon, S. R. (2003). Creating social presence in online environments. New directions for adult and continuing education2003(100), 57-68. 

Schwartz, L. (2004). Advanced Accessibility Features for Inclusive Distance Education. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 5(3). 

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