High schools, colleges, and universities are moving online, and the number of students who participate in online and blended courses is expanding rapidly. The transition has not always been easy, and both teachers and students are still working out the best strategies for online education.
Here are 10 Success Factors for Teachers and Students in Online Classes.
In 2008, the authors of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns predicted that by 2019 half of all high school courses would be delivered online. At the time, it was quite controversial but with massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the general rush toward online learning at all levels, that prediction seems almost conservative, today. As this trend continues, both teachers and students are learning (often by trial and error) how to survive this new kind of e-learning.
- Use good learning objectives. Like traditional courses, online courses should be designed based on clear, specific, and measurable learning objectives. Too often, the learning objectives hang around the bottom levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, but this does not need to be the case. Using better assessments (see below) can help students move from understanding and remembering to evaluating and creating.
- Pay attention to course navigation. One of the biggest complaints students have about online courses is confusing navigation and this problem can greatly demotivate students, and may result in them opting out of the course. All of the resources and tools should be easily accessible from the course landing page, including the syllabus, a guide to getting started, the modules themselves, and—most importantly—where students can go for help and support.
- Use diverse resources. One key advantage of online courses is that the Internet contains a veritable smorgasbord of content options. So why be limited to text documents or even videos? Slide presentations with voiceovers, screencasts and pencasts, whiteboard animations, interactive e-books, virtual games and simulations, and many other types of resources can help keep students engaged.
- Provide spaces for students to interact. A second main advantage of online courses is the plethora of options for student interaction, which leads to much greater mastery and skill development than learning in isolation. At the very least, all online courses should include a discussion board with both assigned discussion topics and areas for student-initiated threads. Even better, wikis, blogs, Twitter discussions, Facebook pages, and other social media platforms provide plenty of opportunities for students to curate content, share their thoughts, and learn from each other.
- Use appropriate assessments. Assessment in online courses is no longer limited to multiple-choice and other computer based questions. Independent and collaborative projects based on real-world problem-solving can help students move up the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. One way of harnessing technology in assessment is encouraging students to create digital artefacts’ and then evaluate one another’s work.
- Understand the effort required. Many students think e-learning is easier than traditional learning, but this is most certainly not the case. In fact, online courses are often more difficult because of the added challenge of self-discipline and motivation. Also, online courses offer great flexibility and allow many people to become students who otherwise would not have the opportunity, but they aren’t for someone who is not willing to make an effort.
- Properly research the course. Many people take online courses to help them prepare for future academic work or to advance their careers. Before signing up for a course, students should make sure it offers what they require in terms of curriculum, accreditation, and credit transferability.
- Good time management. Many people vastly underestimate the time they will need to spend on online courses, which require at least as much (and often more) time as traditional courses. Students should plan on a minimum of three to four hours, and in some cases six to eight hours, per week. To ensure they don’t fall behind, students should review the syllabus, so they know in advance when assignments and tests are due, prepare a study schedule, and stick to it.
- Interact with other students. Although most online courses include some sort of interactive element, participating in class discussions is not always mandatory, and many students do not actively contribute. However, research has shown that peer learning is much more effective than learning in isolation. The only way to get the most out of an online course is to take advantage of all of the tools available.
- Ask for help. Many students in online courses choose to suffer silently rather than asking for help when they need it, possibly out of the fear of looking foolish in front of classmates. Students who don’t get adequate support are more likely to perform poorly or cut classes. But all students need help of some kind, whether they are having trouble with the technology or need help understanding the material. Asking for help is a simple but powerful way students can improve their online learning experience.
The Internet is continuing to transform how we learn, and as technologies develop and more courses go online, both students and teachers will become more comfortable with the tools and platforms. So let’s focus on making the online learning experience as useful and engaging as possible.
Sameer Bhatia is founder & CEO of ProProfs.com which is a leading provider of online learning tools for building, testing, and applying knowledge. Through its eLearning authoring tools, ProProfs offers trainers and educators powerful-but-simple features without requiring users to download or learn expensive software. Sameer has a background in technology with a Masters in Computer Science from USC (University Of Southern California) and is an ed-tech industry veteran. You can find Sameer on Google+ and Twitter.