September 4th, 2009

Online Course Management: Overcoming the Challenges of “Anytime” Learning

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Although the online classroom environment provides tremendous flexibility of time and place of study, establishing and communicating a course pace and pattern of work can aid both instructor and student, and alleviate confusion of course operation.

Courses without time and location operating parameters can become management challenges for busy students participating in online class activities while still balancing the demands of work and family life. For the instructor, the lack of time and location constraints can cause a blending of class and non-class activities, particulary as students desire 24/7 access to their “virtual teacher.”

Establishing a pattern of course activity and communicating this sequence to the learner enables the learner to develop a plan of study to address the requirements of the course. This course schedule and pattern also aids the instructor to contain the course-related activities to an appropriate duration and workload.

For the student, an established pattern of course activities allows for planning and management of other non-course activities around their e-learning activities. For the instructor, establishing and communicating a course schedule and pattern of work serves to define the boundaries between the online class activities and the rest of life.

A few simple strategies for applying the principle of establishing a pattern of course activities include:

  1. Establish and maintain a predicable course pattern of course-related activities. This may include such activities as “opening” new lessons, due dates and times for assignments, schedules for synchronous activities and self-assessment and online quizzes/exams.
  2. Use the syllabus or course information page to communicate the schedule of course-related activities.
  3. Use a dynamic communications method such as group email or the general class announcement pages to inform the class of unplanned changes to the course activity schedule. If possible, describe why the change has occurred.
  4. Provide the instructor “work schedule” informing students of the time constraints of your course related activities. These may also be posted to the syllabus or welcome letter.

Dr. Lawrence C. Ragan is the Director of Faculty Development for Penn State’s World Campus.

Excerpted from Principles of Effective Online Teaching: #3 Establish Patterns of Course Activities. To read the full article, download the FREE report: 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education.