Is it time to change the online learning conversation? The debate about whether online courses are a good idea continues with most people still on one side or the other. Who’s right or wrong is overshadowed by what the flexibility and convenience of online education has offered institutions and students. Those features opened the door, and online learning has come inside and is making itself at home in most of our institutions. No doubt the debate over the value of online learning will continue, but perhaps it’s being judged by the wrong criteria.
Because online courses have fewer opportunities for the spontaneous, real-time exchanges of the face-to-face classroom, online instruction requires a deliberate approach to design and facilitation. As Bethany Simunich says, “Online, learning doesn’t happen by chance.” In an interview with Online Classroom, Simunich, associate director of online learning at Kent State University, offered the following techniques to improve an online course:
Not all online courses are created from scratch. Many—if not most—are online versions of courses that have previously been taught face-to-face. In these cases, where an instructor or instructional designer is adapting an existing face-to-face course for online delivery, assessments already exist.
Nate Cottle, professor of human environmental sciences at the University of Central Oklahoma, uses the process approach to learning as delineated by William Horton (2006) in his online and blended courses. Cottle spoke to Online Classroom about using this model. “Learning isn’t something that has to be confined to the classroom, and so as I teach blended classes, I think the more I can involve the students in learning and the more contexts I can involve them in, the more they’re going to learn,” he said. “The idea is to get them to slowly digest the information in different ways and to engage in different activities so that by the time the course comes to an end, they can apply the knowledge they have learned. That’s the ultimate goal: to get them to be in a state where they can apply the knowledge.”
Taking an online course can be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several key techniques you can employ to humanize your online courses and thus improve the learning experience as well as success and retention rates.
As an online instructor, I can fulfill the minimum requirements of the university regarding interacting with students, or I can create a learning environment that facilitates student engagement in the classroom. Students enroll in online classes because of the need for scheduling flexibility, work-life-school balance, costs, and convenience. Although online learning holds many advantages, the potential drawbacks revolve around the lack of personal interaction between the instructor and student, as well as the student-to-student contact. Keeping students engaged in the course is a vital function of an effective instructor.
The design of your course pages can have a significant effect on the learning experience in your online course. Good design can draw students in, help them comprehend the information the first time they read it, and enable them to easily retrieve information, says Sheree Webb, an instructional designer at Tyler Junior College.
Teaching face-to-face and teaching online are both teaching, but they are qualitatively different. In comparison, driving a car and riding a motorcycle are both forms of transportation, but they have enough differences to warrant additional training and preparation when switching from one to the other. The same is true when faculty move from the traditional classroom to the online classroom. There are some things that the two have in common, but there are also plenty of differences. With this in mind, consider the following eight roles of an effective online teacher.
Understanding learners’ experiences in the online classroom can help you improve your courses for current and future students and help build a strong learning community. Jill Schiefelbein, owner of Impromptu Guru, a company focused on helping individuals and groups improve communication in both face-to-face and online environments, recommends using a reciprocal feedback process to elicit this valuable information from students.
Controversy can erupt in any learning situation, and knowing how to manage it is an important skill for any instructor. Online instructors need to be aware of the following challenges when it comes to managing controversy: