How Campuses Can Plan for Online Orientation

The idea of online orientation for college students is gaining momentum. Colleges throughout the country have moved to remote learning to close out the spring semester in response to COVID-19 concerns. But it is already time to look ahead to the fall semester and how to accommodate new classes of first-year and transfer students.

Some schools begin new student orientation as early as April. With COVID-19 preventing a physical presence on campuses, student services personnel must problem-solve on how to shift to virtual campus tours and online orientation. In fact, some schools like the University of South Florida have already announced that their school orientation will be held online through August. Higher ed personnel are also tasked with easing incoming and prospective students’ anxieties amid uncertainties surrounding the fall 2020 semester.

Fortunately, online orientation isn’t a new concept. Many colleges already have all or part of their orientation process online, and we’ve had the opportunity to work with some world-class institutions on their online orientation curriculum.

If you’re currently trying to transition your historically in-person orientation process to a virtual format, you can find some comfort in knowing that other colleges have already done so successfully. Here are some things to consider that we’ve learned from working with some of these institutions, as well as information about incorporating mental health training in your online orientation.

Taking Student Orientation Online: Considerations

New student orientation exists to help incoming freshmen and transfers ease into college life, covering topics such as where to find campus resources, how to manage money, and dealing with the stress that students often encounter during college. This process has always been important, but perhaps even more so now, when incoming students are feeling especially uncertain.

When planning your online orientation, review your current onboarding curriculum and process and consider the following questions:

  • Can you leverage an existing learning management platform to deliver the training? The process will likely be similar to pivoting from in-person classes to online classes, as your institution may have already done.
  • What does your current curriculum cover and how can you transfer it to an online orientation? Consider using tools such as videos, simulations, video conferences, presentations, etc.
  • How can you make the training engaging so students don’t mindlessly click through it? Powerpoint presentations and some e-learning solutions can sometimes be appropriate, but not always. Ensure your content is engaging and interactive so students can gain the most benefit.
  • How can you foster a sense of community in a virtual environment? Consider using video conferences to discuss completed modules. This adds more interactivity and also helps students get to know each other, creating a sense of community in a virtual environment.
  • Does your orientation address student mental health? Mental health issues are prevalent on campuses (even pre-COVID-19). More colleges are understanding the importance of mental health training, and the impact it can have on reducing burnout and creating a safer campus community.

Even as campuses start resuming in-person orientation, you might still find that some content, such as mental health training, is better delivered virtually.

With varying student schedules, it’s impossible to get 100% attendance at orientation sessions. By delivering this content online, you better track that all students are completing training that covers important topics and helps contribute to your campus safety and culture.

Addressing Student Mental Health Online

Kognito’s higher education simulations address campus mental health topics such as suicide and sexual misconduct prevention. Students learn how to recognize signs that a peer might be at risk, practice talking tos virtual students, and receive personalized feedback from virtual coaches. This interactive approach ensures students are engaging with the curriculum, and empowers them to practice using newly-learned skills in a safe, comfortable environment.

Kognito’s Online Orientation Package

Simulation Topics Duration
At-Risk for Students Mental Health & Wellness, Suicide Prevention 30 mins
Sexual Misconduct Prevention for Students Bystander Intervention, Consent, Referring Peers 75 mins


As previously mentioned, some colleges are already leveraging Kognito simulations as part of their new student orientation. For example, last fall, the University of Iowa launched our At-Risk simulation to all new students as part of their mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts. After receiving positive feedback from students who completed the simulation, which you can learn more about here, they expanded the online module to the entire campus.

Other universities may want to follow suit to support mental health of all students on campus. A new survey of college presidents published by Inside Higher Ed found the number one issue they are concerned about from the toll of COVID-19 is student mental health.

While nine in 10 campus leaders say mental health is their top concern, fewer than two in 10 say their institution has invested in more mental or physical health resources in response to COVID-19.

So what difference can a 30-minute training make when rolled out across a campus? Here’s what a Dean of Students from one of our client institutions had to say:

“A resource like Kognito is incredibly important to me because it allows us to provide a very significant and intentional resource to our students, faculty, and staff. I’ve heard that they have found it incredibly valuable, that they are appreciative to have those tools at their fingertips and an opportunity to advance their knowledge on a very crucial topic that is all of our responsibility.”

Our At-Risk suite of mental health and suicide prevention simulations have significantly increased college students’ mental health skills, peer referrals, and self-referrals, and we knew that the power of interacting with virtual humans could also have a great impact on sexual misconduct prevention training. That’s why we recently introduced a new simulation that is an important addition to colleges’ online orientations: Sexual Misconduct Prevention for Students.

Sexual Misconduct Prevention for Students covers topics such as bystander intervention, checking for consent, and referring peers who need support.

Access Kognito’s Online Orientation Simulations

We are here to assist higher education institutions with your remote learning needs for training staff and students. If you’d like to explore using our suite of higher education simulations as you plan your new student online orientation, please contact us to let us know how we can help you.

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