6 Ways to Create Meaningful Learning Experiences Online
Elyse Adler is an Assistant Professor of Information Technology
Online learning is something that is new to many faculty and students. When building an online course, it is important to create quality learning experiences for your students, understanding that you may not have the opportunity to interact face-to-face with them throughout the class. With this in mind, there are a few areas that should be considered.
Course overview and introduction
Make sure that students know how to get started in your course: Where can they find the required materials? What resources do they need? How can they get in touch with you? Are there any policies or procedures that they need to be aware of? What expectations do you have of them as the student? What expectations can they have of you as the instructor? It is usually a good practice to place all of this important information on the landing page for the course or on an easy-to-find “start here” page. Also make sure that you include a personal introduction to yourself; this helps you to be a real person to the students, which is important in the online environment. I always like to approach this portion as I would the first day of class (syllabus day!)—go over all the things that students might need or want to know!
Just because a student is signed up for the class does not mean they know what they should be learning! Always ensure that students know what the course learning objectives are, as well as what the objectives are for each lesson/module/assignment. This will help the students to focus in on the important facts and elements of the course. Because you are not there in person to guide the learning time, the clarity and thoroughness of these objectives is important.
Assessment and measurement of learning
Start by making sure that you have clearly stated your grading policy in your course overview: what is the late policy? How much are various assignments worth? It is helpful for you to provide rubrics for all graded assignments that break down the points awarded and that clearly explains what you are looking for in each area. Additionally, you want to make sure that you are including detailed assignment instructions. I have found it helpful to create a Word document for each assignment; this allows me to break down and outline the assignment completely for the student. You may even consider creating a short video to include in your course that explains the assignment as you would in person in a classroom setting. The assignments that are used for assessment should directly connect to the course learning objectives.
It is important to select materials for your course that fully support the course objectives; these materials should be current. In the online environment, I always try not to offer too many optional resources, as I do not want to overwhelm my students with information. I want students to remain focused on the course content. If you are providing online links or resources, make sure that you have checked the links and that you are providing any information that is needed to access/log in to the material.
Do not assume that just because you are teaching an online course that the students are fully aware of how to use all the technological tools required. It may be helpful to provide links to your school’s IT help desk, support pages for any online resources you are using, and to offer guidance and assistance for any technology tools or media required in the course. If you are not a tech guru yourself, the internet is a great place to find short how-to videos that you can share with your students.
Learner interaction and engagement
The online learning environment is very different from in-class settings. Do your best to make yourself available to your students in whatever way you are most comfortable—the key is to be reachable by your students! Students will not interact in a course if they do not see you, as the instructor, interacting with them. Course discussion boards are great places to start discussions with students and enable them to interact with each other.
There are so many aspects of creating an online course, but the main goal is to create a place where students can learn and grow. How this is done will look different for every faculty member and every course. Remember that you are the expert on your subject, and you want to share this information with your students—the online environment is simply the tool by which you are conveying your knowledge. Just as you would in the classroom, put your students and their learning needs at the forefront and provide a space where ideas can be exchanged, learning can take place, and growth can occur.