-What is involved in designing an effective online course?
The first step in designing an effective online course is to understand the learners. Online learners come from a variety of cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, are older than traditional students and the majority of them are female. Additionally, their secondary characteristics, including jobs, finances, education, and marital and parental status, can affect their willingness to take an online course and remain enrolled. Prior to the course, it is important to survey online learners, in order to better understand how to design & implement the online course. In Chapter 1, Stavredes discusses various types of learners, that are either Teacher or Learner-Centered, hold a high or low degree of Uncertainty Avoidance, are Individualists or Collectivists, and are from either Masculine or Feminine societies. In Exhibit 1.2 Impact of Cultural Differences on Learning, Stavrades provides each dimension, cultural differences, associated countries and teaching & learning characteristics of each, which can assist the online instructor in completion of this first step.
Secondly, it is important to understand how the adult learners learn. There are multiple theories or strategies that apply to adult learning:
- Andragogy is a theory that differs from Pedagogy, in theorizing how adults learn, as the adult learner sets his or her own goals and decides how to achieve them. This concept is also referred to as being Learner-Centered, because the learner is taking responsibility for his or her own education.
- Knowles and colleagues developed a list of key attributes of adult learners, that can assist the online instructor’s understanding of the class’s learning style, including Need to Know or why, Self-Concept or how, Experience or sharing of ideas, Readiness to Learn or problem solving, Orientation to Learning or real-life and Motivation to Learn or incentives.
- In Exhibit 2.1 Grow’s Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) model, Grow classifies learners as either a Dependent Learner or guided, Interested Learner or basic understanding, Involved Learner or goal oriented or a Self-Directed Learner or self evaluator, and lists strategies for the online instructor to provide effective teaching strategies for each.
- In Exhibit 2.2 Grasha-Riechmann Student Learning Style Scales, various styles and learner preferences are listed, which can also support the appropriate design and implementation of an online learning environment. These include Independent or Dependent, Competitive or Collaborative, Avoidant or Participant.
“These assumptions should be viewed relative to your learners’ individual levels of self-directedness, motivation and life experience in order to ensure that your instructional approach functions positively in the given learning situation” (Merriam, 2001).
Furthermore, these adult learners most likely hold prior knowledge and relevant experiences, which can be passed onto their peers through ice-breakers, discussion forums, blogs and group projects, to name a few, which will help to improve the course and allow students to create professional networks. In addition, online courses for adults must provide flexibility, a variety of activities and problems to be solved, time management and organizational tools, scaffolding strategies with 5-7 modules per course, frequent feedback, formative evaluations, clear directions and expectations, strict and realistic deadlines, proper student support services and students must understand why or how it relates to real-life or career advancement, to name a few.
– Discuss challenges that affect learners’ persistence in online course and relate these challenges to your own online teaching or learning experiences.
However, once the online course is designed and implemented by the instructor, students may find themselves feeling overwhelmed, find that they do not have the proper support from the institution or perhaps feel that they are not part of the course. Institutions desire high retention rates, while instructors should strive for high rates of persistence. Retention relates to the amount of students which remain enrolled in the online course, while Persistence refers to the amount of students that return each semester to further their education. Low expectations, little feedback, unclear directions and a lack of communication between peers and instructors are a few issues that can cause adult learners to dropout. In order to raise these rates, online instructors must interact with their students, providing frequent feedback and forums for peer discussions, for example.
In addition, Exhibit 3.1 Comparison of Persistence Models That Address Traditional Students, displays differences among retention models developed by Spady, Tinto and Pascarella. The models include variables relating to Academic Potential, Grade Performance, Normative Congruence or the student’s expectations vs. the institutions, along with Intellectual Development and Friendship Support.
Furthermore, in Exhibit 3.2 Comparison of Persistence Models That Address Non-traditional, Distance Learning Students, Bean & Metzner and Rovai display variables relating to an online learner’s persistence or “fit” into the program, providing the institution or instructor with information that can be used in the design and continual assessment and update of online courses for adults. These variables are similar to those used in course design and adult learner characteristics.
I am currently working on designing an online Math course for EdTech 522 and can honestly say that there is so much to learn about course design, implementation and assessment, that I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. I do not want to design a course that may prove ineffective or unattractive to learners, and would rather read and reread numerous articles and text, taking meticulous notes, in order to design an effective and well respected online course.
Since January 2016, when I began taking the EdTech courses, the LMS was new to me. Otherwise, I have used Blackboard or completed military-related distance learning, without an available instructor or helpful advice or discussions with peers. Additionally, it included difficult problem-based assessments which constantly caused my computer to lock up or the course to start over. It was very frustrating! However, I have enjoyed the EdTech program thus far and plan to continue. While reading the attributes, characteristics and variables of online learners, I thought about how they applied to my learning and what I would do to ensure that in the future, my online learners do not feel, confused, frustrated, lost or alone in their journey to further their education.
Pappas, C. (2014). 11 tips to engage and inspire adult learners. eLearning Industry.
Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.