Lilian Austin is an e-learning consultant who offers learning design advice and services to educational organisations and companies. Having recently joined the team of Accredited Consultants at eWorks, she can now offer advice and solutions across the e-learning spectrum. Lilian has enjoyed huge successes with both designing and delivering online courses. Read on for some excellent advice about making online courses…wait for it…educational.
When it works, it really works
A few years ago, when I asked my students in a fully online master’s subject to provide feedback on their experience, many of them stated that they had felt more connected and engaged with me and their fellow students than they ever had in their face to face classes. The learning design had encouraged ongoing collaboration and support and this made the experience worthwhile for these students. For me this feedback was a dream come true. I knew that engaging and supportive online learning could be achieved and was thrilled to have the evidence. Allow me to convince that fully online is fully possible.
The e-learning resistance
Online, ‘e’ or digital learning may be the jargon on the lips of most educational and training organisations these days, but many educators and students still resist it. The question is why? The reasons are many and varied but often people see it as lonely, unchallenging and poorly presented. And sometimes it is. Indeed some of those resisting may have been students of poorly designed and executed online subjects. Unfortunately online learning has been given a bad name.
As an educational designer who has viewed hundreds of LMS subjects dished up to students without any real thought or planning, I can see why there are doubters. The magic of good teaching and learning can so often be lost in a sea of PDF and PPT documents and unanswered discussion posts. So what’s missing? In my mind it is the presence of the teacher in the learning experience. This is both the actual presence online in discussions, forums and virtual classroom sessions but also the sense of the teacher’s voice structuring and guiding the online materials and activities. I’m not suggesting we don’t need teachers, simply that students don’t need to be in the same, physical location as them.
The face-to-face experience
Think about what happens in regular face-to-face sessions. Initially the teacher carefully plans and designs the learning experience. Then, in the classroom, the teacher sets the scene for the learning:
- asking questions; eliciting and valuing previous knowledge
- presenting new knowledge; helping students to make new connections
- encouraging collaboration and problem solving; supporting risk taking, and
- drawing together the new learning.
All of this can be achieved in online learning spaces but the design must go beyond long lists of PDF documents for students to read and try to make sense of.
Good learning design is key
Good learning design within the learning space is crucial to a student’s sense that the learning is purposeful, planned, cohesive, inclusive, collaborative, and challenging. Integrating the sense of the teacher’s voice in the learning space, making sure that students work together, and with the teacher, in both asynchronous and synchronous learning events, and ensuring that the assessment is real and beneficial, will make the online space a real choice for more students and teachers.
This type of learning design takes effort and the ability to integrate the many and varied e-learning options into the best experience and sequence for the student. It requires the teacher/designer/developer to be cognizant of the student at all times and to develop multiple opportunities for the students to engage with the materials, the assessment, the other students, and the teacher. Then the magic can happen. It really is possible – I’ve seen it happen again and again – but it takes effort.
How to make your e-learning work
Seven design tips to make the magic happen:
- Plan your online program using sticky notes. Use different colours for content chunks, activities, online discussions, and virtual classroom sessions. Think about the learner’s pathway through the program.
- Write or record your learning materials with the learner in mind. Create a sense of the teacher’s voice reaching out to the student. Avoid using the passive tense and overly informal language.
- Structure the learning in manageable chunks so that students can feel a sense of achievement and do not feel overwhelmed.
- Plan opportunities for meaningful collaboration in both synchronous and asynchronous environments at critical stages of the learning.
- Avoid long lists of PDF readings. Select readings carefully and give students a sense of why this document has been chosen, what they are looking for in the readings and how it relates to the learning activities or assessment. Make them want to read it.
- Avoid uploading PowerPoint slides unless you can get them narrated by the teacher. In face-to-face sessions PowerPoint presentations should only offer minimal information to support the lecture or teaching moment. It is the stories and narrative that can bring a PowerPoint presentation to life. Slides with a few dot points are not meant to be viewed in isolation from the teacher’s narrative.
- And lastly, if at all possible, plan for the teacher/tutor/trainer to be online and present throughout the course at significant stages.
Read to get started?
Contact Lilian if you have any questions.