Online education is not exempted from the necessity to change its pedagogical approaches and implement new effective teaching and learning strategies. The drop out level of online courses is still very high. When analyzing the reasons, the following is mentioned in most of the cases:
- Lack of motivation;
- Technology issues;
- Poor student support;
- Ineffective design of the course;
- Inexperienced and inefficient instructors.
Well, it seems that some online course developers create online courses formatted like classroom lectures. Ideal online course design incorporates several aspects and is a complex process which we will discuss in this post.
It is good to keep in mind that majority of our audience are Millennials, and it means that teaching and learning style we applied 10 or 20 years ago will not work well with them. There is a challenging task to find effective approaches how to create a new online content which can attract and engage Millennials:
- Strong technology support;
- Flexibility and adaptability of the content;
- Social nature of learning;
- Communication and collaboration;
- Interactivity of the content.
Online course features which meet modern learners needs
Millennials enjoy flexibility of the schedules, and therefore the traditional classroom setting is not very acceptable for them. Online learning is much closer to their hearts, but there are also some aspects which need adjustments:
- Millennials prefer flexible learning when they can choose their own path and have ability to personalize their learning;
- Effective learning requires the right portions of information to be given to learners at once – short lessons and bite-sized modules create feeling of accomplishment and motivate to continue studying;
- Millennials want to understand the purpose of learning and how things they learn are related to the reality around – relevant content retains information;
- Gamification of the content will attract learners since they used to play computer games and enjoy the challenges of reaching the goals;
- Rewards in the form of prizes, scores, batches – are serving as effective motivation tool and it is very important to keep track of learner’s performance and provide regular feedback.
Effective Online Learning Strategies
Online learning providers need to develop learning strategies which will motivate, inspire, and engage Millennial learners.
Based on my teaching experience, Millennials are using smartphones to get out answers for any questions they have. Smartphones serve as a tool for communication, collaboration, entertainment, and learning. And it goes very well with bite-sized learning or microlearning since phones fit ideally for such delivery of information.
Millennials feel comfortable communicating with friends, classmates, and colleagues over social media. Many of them are having small businesses and run them efficiently with the help of social networking. It is important to integrate social media into the online learning strategy so that the Millennials can participate in collaborative activities: project work, problem-solving, and peer reviews.
Video content captures the attention of learners. It is recommended to keep educational videos short and concise to retain the Millennials’ interest and attention.
The sequential representation of the topics in the form of online text can’t keep learners attention for a long time. It is advisable to represent each topic of the course as the set of different activities that support active engagement. It helps to experience the content and makes the learning process more effective.
Components of the ideal online course
The components of the online course might look the same as ones in the traditional course delivery. Let’s examine the content of each element.
The online study guide is a key element which contains the reference to the content, structure, and other learning activities associated with the online course. Online study guides must provide a sufficient level of details to enable the learner to proceed with studies on his own. With the move towards a learner-centered approach, the study guide must include the elements of good instructional design:
- a clear description of the instructional aim;
- the learning objectives;
- the list of learning resources,
- assessment strategy;
- description of the projects and assignments;
The ideal online course should not have prescribed online textbook. These textbooks are not considered as an efficient learning tool because of poor interface.
The online course content contains the set of tasks (assignments, reviews, projects) which enhance the learning experiences of the students. The online assessments are less dependent on content coverage; they are reflecting the application and use of gained information and knowledge in real-world situations. It highlights the importance of authenticity and engagement with the subject of studies. The critical aspect of online assessments – timely provided feedback to help students to refine their learning and get guidance for further learning activities.
Course content – main guidelines
There are several tips which can help course developers to design an excellent content for online delivery:
- The existing material accumulated during traditional in-class delivery can’t be used directly in online course;
- Online-lesson should not take longer than 30 minutes of studies;
- Classify topics for each lesson:
- What students must know: a core part of the content which learners need to understand;
- What is good to know: not compulsory to know, but this information helps develop a better understanding of the subject;
- Keep sentences short, write clearly; the sentence should not be longer than 25 words;
- Don’t give learners more information than can be handled at one time;
- Avoid jargon and culture-specific slang since in online courses the audience is multi-cultural;
- Personalize the instructions, use personal pronouns to refer to learners;
- Make structure clear, easy readable, highlight the important stuff, use bulleted lists when appropriate.
- Use the active voice.
Using communication tools in online course delivery
Communication is a key component in online course delivery, and it includes:
- communication between learners during collaborative work and discussions;
- communication with course instructors, and
- other course participants: industry experts and external community.
Online learning activities can be supported by a range of communication tools: synchronous and asynchronous.
It seems that asynchronous tools are more appropriate for tasks that require reflection and more time to accomplish. Asynchronous discussions are useful where learners don’t feel comfortable to collaborate in real-time conversations.
Synchronous tools, like chats or audio or video conferences, provide higher social presence.
Let’s examine some of the most popular tools and their role in online learning.
These tools present the most basic and popular way of communication, and they work well in different technology settings. E-mail tools allow groups of people to be connected to discussions and information exchange. For example, mailing lists are used for group discussion and newsletters to share information and make arrangements when necessary. Emails can be used for one-to-one communications to ask questions or personal advice.
Discussion forums are the primary tool for online discussion, and they allow a number of participants to hold conversations in the form of posted messages. Participants can communicate at different times by writing comments that remain in the forum for other participants. Forums are used for topic-specific discussions, case studies, post-class comments.
A wiki is a Website which can be edited online. Users do not need any special technical knowledge to modify existing wiki pages or to add new pages. Wikis can be used by learners for collaborative work on the document or for sharing ideas and resources.
A blog allows people to share, access and easily update information. Blogs were created to present content as a simple list of entries. Learners can use blogs for submitting their own assignments and for commenting on work of other participants.
The term “webcasting” refers to audios and videos sent from a single source to the audience. The typical example is the video lesson, where an expert talks to many learners simultaneously without interaction. Recorded webcasts can be provided for asynchronous use. This can be used for the content delivery and demonstration of specific processes.
Chat and instant messaging
Instant messaging are popular applications which allow people to exchange text-based messages in real time. Chat can be used for questions and feedback during an online presentation or other activities, like problem-solving and brainstorming sessions.
Polls can be used to collect learners’ opinions by asking them to vote on issues and make choices concerning course activities.
Audio and Video Conferences
Audio and video conferences can be effectively used in mobile learning for developing communication skills, and professional training.
It seems that the task of defining the ideal online course is an adventurous activity because many aspects need to be considered and discussed.
The emerging technologies provide more potential to develop online courses which are appealing and satisfying the new generation of learners. There are also new learning and instructional theories discussed which will lead to further development in the area of online learning.