Due to increasing demand for education and training in the information age, online learning and teaching is becoming a necessity in our future. However, lack of research goals to understand impact of online learning environments on students is a problem in research on online learning environments. We identified four main research goals to pursue in online learning environments based on their impact on learner achievement, engagement, and retention (opposite of attrition). Those goals are (a) enhancing learner engagement & collaboration, (b) promoting effective facilitation, (c) developing assessment techniques, and (d) designing faculty development programs. Current promising work in those areas is presented. Four methods that are common in the instructional technology literature are recommended to pursue those goals. Formative research and developmental research are relevant for all four. Although appropriate for any of the goals, experimental research is a better fit for goals b and c, and activity theory is useful for goals a and b. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.