eLearning, Instructional Design

5 Things to Consider When Taking a Class Online

Teaching online is not the same as teaching “on-campus.” Not only are the teaching experiences going to be different, but the student experiences will be as well. Online instructors who are tasked with “taking” a face-to-face course online shouldn’t be fooled into believing that because they are subject matter experts that they are also online learning experts. Years of successful face-to-face classroom experience don’t necessarily translate to a successful online course. The move to online is challenging and it requires a dramatic shift in thinking and planning.

There are people who feel online classroom settings are better because they require student participation; an online student cannot sit in the back of the classroom and listen without contributing to the conversation. They also allow students to revisit curriculum material as they complete assignments, often leading to an active learning process on the part of the student. However, this type of student engagement is not organic. It requires thoughtful, strategic, and dedicated planning.

Although new-to-online instructors will likely be working closely with an instructional designer, here are a few things to consider when creating your first online course:

1. The Grand Lecture
For seasoned face-to-face instructors, changing the framework of a lecture that they’ve been delivering for years is very difficult and often feels like an unnatural change. However, in the online learning environment, traditional lecturing is a rather ineffective way of teaching. In fact, what may have been a 45- or 50-minute lecture should be only 15-20 minutes long, at the most, in an online environment. Attention spans are short; but, more importantly, online students need to be actively engaged. Generally, lectures for online should facilitate an activity by either covering the most difficult concepts of that curriculum segment or providing instruction, setting expectations or sharing examples of the learning activity at hand.

2. Reading, Writing, and Multimedia
Not surprisingly, the incorporation of video and audio as well as interactive multimedia tools in online learning are an effective way to share curriculum concepts and engage students in the material. Interactive learning tools that either requires students to answer questions, drag and drop elements, or somehow interact with the information improves student involvement and can increase understanding.

3. Plan to Plan
Planning for both the instructor and the student is critical in online learning. Often time’s students who choose to study online have complicated schedules; knowing what is next and when it is due is a contributing factor to student satisfaction and success in an online environment. This means that instructors need to have planned out the entire course well in advance of the start date. For an instructor that has taught a subject for many years, he or she may feel comfortable starting a weekly class without much preparation. This “loose” planning is not an option for online courses.

To begin, develop a detailed syllabus, which includes a weekly course schedule. For the instructor, this will serve as an outline for building the course modules; for students, it will help provide general guidance about what to expect and when to schedule time to accomplish assignments.

4. Rhythm and routine
Online learners respond well to consistency, particularly regarding activity deadlines. For example, each Monday at 11:59pm short essay paper is due; each Friday at 11:59pm blog posts are due. This kind of rhythm is critically important for student success, and even more so in an accelerated course online.

5. Lone Ranger
One of the most common concerns for students new to online is feeling isolated. Students crave interaction with other students and generally feel more satisfied with the learning experience when they can share ideas and learn from their peers. To address this student need, the design of an online course should include required collaborative work, structured discussion interactions, and/or peer review/critique of assignments. These activities should occur within the course regularly, if not frequently. Unlike impromptu face-to-face discussions, online interactions must be intentionally facilitated and designed: instructions for these activities should be clear, concise, and direct. They should outline expectations and articulate any limitations. Essentially, the activity prompt is critically important, as an instructor cannot change or revise the question to garner a different response without causing confusion and disruption.