In every course there are certain core concepts and principles that are important for each student to learn, develop into useful knowledge, and apply appropriately. What’s not important is how they learn these core concepts.
This is where customized learning experiences come in, essentially shifting the course from teacher-directed to learner-directed. From a course that focuses on content to one that focuses on what students are doing with the content. And it all starts with a flexible course design, and a willingness to relinquish some of your control.
Judith Boettcher, Ph.D., an author, consultant and leading voice on educational technology and online teaching explained the benefits and techniques for “flexing a course design to meet learner interest, and increase engagement and motivation.”
In the online seminar, Teach More Effectively with Customizing Learning Experiences, Boettcher outlined the nine points of customization that can map neatly to the four phases of any course: the beginning, early middle, late middle, and wrap-up. The nine points are:
Beginning of the course:
1. Get acquainted – Help students get to know other students and personalize their social presence in the course by sharing photos, bios, and interests. This helps lay the foundation of a learning community.
2. Customize learning goals – Create a discussion thread or forum during the first week that requires students to review course goals and outcomes. Find out what the students know and what they want to know once the course is complete.
3. Exam course structure and expectations – Review with your students the course structure, assignments, and expectations for meetings and deadlines to ensure the structure aligns with their needs, expectations, and goals.
Early middle of a course:
4. Differentiate assignments and content resources – Build flexibility into your course content that allows you to alter specific assignments based on personal learning goals and readiness.
5. Create options for peer interaction – Team assignments and peer review are powerful community building and assessment tools, but they’re not for everyone. Be flexible on how each are used in your course.
6. Build leadership opportunities – Not all learners need to be assessed in identical tasks. Some students may want to lead a seminar or discussion forum, others may prefer to demonstrate their learning through by writing a summary or conducting an interview.
Late middle of a course:
7. Customize and personalize projects – Working adults in particular will proactively work on projects that have meaning for them in other areas of life so it’s good to have a project proposal process that cycles between the instructor and the learner for a good learning-interest match.
8. Offer peer review opportunities – Peer review of project proposals, projects-in-process, and finished projects helps build community, extend learning, and reduce grading burdens and unwelcome surprises.
9. Provide choices for project sharing – End-of-course wrap-ups often include project presentations, allow your students to select from a range of project types, including podcasts, wikis, journals, interviews, papers, etc.
“Designing customized learning experiences, like many things in learning, is both simple and complex, but it makes a huge difference in satisfaction and effectiveness,” Boettcher says.