I’m a really big “prep and plan” kind of guy. I prep my food every week, I have spreadsheets and information on future plans for diets, workout schedules, work schedules, finances, purchases (big and small), and more. So the idea of planning isn’t something foreign to me. With the online environment, you simply can’t afford NOT to plan (Laureate Education, 2010). I would wager that the most important aspects of an online course happen before the class starts, and then within the first week of class. I say this, because it doesn’t matter how great your 8 week course is, with wonderful content and resources, discussions and assignments, if you can’t get the students engaged from the start and keep them coming back for more. You run the risk of losing the majority of your student base with a poor start, and with no scheduled meeting times or forced face-to-face interaction, it can be near impossible to get them back.
What is the significance of knowing the technology available to you?
One of the biggest benefits to the online learning environment, is that the entire world is at your students’ fingertips. You know that if they are checking in, that they are connected to the internet and have access to the largest collection of information, ideas, and technology in the history of man-kind, and can access it with a simple hyperlink and click of the mouse (How Technologies Will Change the Learning Functions Role, 2015). By not taking advantage of this opportunity as an instructor, you are limiting yourself and your students immensely (Boettcher, 2010). Just as doctors and nurses are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education courses each year, with the goal that they stay on top of new developments in medicine and health care, instructors and instructional designers (especially online based) should be prepared to invest a portion of their year simply learning about new technology advances and their application to learning, new developments in instructional design, best practices in instruction, and much more. You open the door to new possibilities when you develop your technological toolkit, and proceed to pass the benefits off to your students.
Why is it essential to communicate clear expectations to learners?
Have you ever been in a situation where you were simply confused? Maybe your boss left a note or sent you an email with a new assignment. The details were there, but you simply couldn’t figure out what you were meant to be doing, what your next steps were, or even really what the project was about?
How about, getting that same assignment, and thinking you know EXACTLY what to do. You put in a weeks worth of work, turn around to give your boss the first draft, which you are extremely proud of, and they get that look on their face like “what is this?”?
Both situations can be tied back to unclear expectations, which are detrimental to the online learning community, for the same reason they are detrimental to any other activity. They create confusion, which leads to frustration, which can easily lead to anger, and resignation. Want to disengage your learners, and have a high drop-out rate? Give them unclear directions and let them fend for themselves (Burnsed, 2010).
What additional considerations should the instructor take into account when setting up an online learning experience?
While I probably can’t provide ALL of the considerations here, the number one item I can state, is “Who is your learner audience?”. The most important aspect of any instructional endeavor, is knowing who you are working with (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, Kemp, 2013). What technology do they have, understand, and know how to use? What do they know about the topic at hand? What is their commitment to this course? Why are they here? And so much more. Consider cultural differences, learning preferences, time zones, language barriers (Dreon, 2013). The beauty of online learning, is that we can connect with a very wide group of students. The potential downside, is accommodating them all. Without knowing who they are, what they need, and what they expect to accomplish, you’ll be letting them down from the very start.
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Burnsed, B. (2010, October 20). Curtailing Dropouts at Online Universities. Retrieved January 17, 2016, from http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2010/10/20/curtailing-dropouts-at-online-universities
Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dreon, O. (2013, February 25). Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice to the Online Classroom. Retrieved January 13, 2016, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/applying-the-seven-principles-for-good-practice-to-the-online-classroom/
How Technologies Will Change the Learning Functions Role. (2015, December 22). Retrieved January 17, 2016, from https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Learning-Technologies-Blog/2015/12/How-Technologies-Will-Change-the-Learning-Functions-Role?mktcops=c.lt~c.sr-leader&mktcois=c.mobile-learning~c.research-into-practice~c.managing-learning-programs~c.informal-learning&
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experience [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2013). Designing effective instruction (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.