Shawn Orr is faculty in the Department of Communication Studies and the Director of the Center for Innovation and Teaching Excellence at Ashland University.
I recently participated in a panel presentation where we were asked to define quality learning and share how we incorporate quality-learning principles and experiences into our online courses. If I had a month of webinars or a year of blog posts, I likely could not share enough about how intentional design and student engagement affect quality learning.
I tend to be pragmatic in my analysis, so for me quality learning is centered on students’ mastery of the learning outcomes and in their ability to think critically and creatively about the course content. I would be remiss if I did not also include in my definition of quality learning a student’s ability to apply course content in real-world settings, and an observable growth in their self-regulation, intrinsic motivation and responsibility for learning. Not a small order for sure.
Online courses—with their amazing flexibility, well-thought-out course design, deep integration of digital tools and built-in support for learning—provide fertile ground for quality learning. Here are the top three strategies I’d use to help build quality learning experiences in my online courses:
Focus on the intentional design of the course.
When I design courses, I always begin with the learning outcomes for the course, and then the modules and work backwards. Creating a course map is especially helpful so I ensure that each activity, lecture, project, assessment, discussion post, guest speaker, presentation and gaming exercise has a clear purpose, linked back to an objective of the course.
Incorporate authentic learning activities and experiences.
For me this means providing opportunities where learning can happen, engaging students in real and meaningful ways with the content, providing multiple voices, theories and perspectives and giving students ample time to try out new learning and thinking—both within the safety of the course and in real-world situations.
Providing rich and robust feedback that helps students grow in both their understanding of the course content as well as their understanding of themselves as learners is a key element of authentic learning. Also, don’t forget about making your courses, the materials and the learning accessible for all students.
Finally, quality learning helps students build connections with me as their professor, and with each other as members of a learning community. Actively seeking out asynchronous opportunities for students to connect with each other (such as discussion boards or proving peer feedback) and synchronous experiences (such as peer group projects or providing engaging activities during your virtual office hours) are a few ways to build this community.
To gather more tips and ensure you’re ready for success with your course model this fall, check out our professional development series, Navigating What’s Next: Helping Students Thrive in Your New Course Format.