Thursday, May 21, 2015

Creating an Online Environment

Creating an online course is more than just loading a syllabus and tests into a course management system (CMS) and sitting back as learners work through the reading assignments and tests.  An online learning experience requires more attention to detail and to the development of an effective online learning community. 

When setting up an online learning experience, the instructor (or designer) needs to consider the available technology.  Standard 6 of the Quality Matters (QM) Rubric (2015) is concerned with course technology and state that technology should not only engage and support the learner, but should support the learning outcomes as well.  This is supported by Drs. Pratt and Palloff (Laureate Education (Producer), 2010) in their advice to not use technology if it does not help build to the outcomes.  If it does not strengthen the course, then it may become nothing more than a distraction.   Knowing what technology is available and how to use it effectively can help enrich the online environment and improve student engagement (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010; Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).

Clear communication of expectations to the learners is the subject of several QM standards.  Notably,  Standard 1 (Quality Matters Program, 2015) offers guidance on how to establish basic expectations such as prerequisite knowledge, communication guidelines, and minimum technology requirement.   Much of the activities included in the first standard of QM can be used to help establish a rapport with students and increase engagement.  Dr. Pratt (Laureate Education (Producer), 2010) suggests that the first two weeks are critical in limiting attrition. 

In addition to establishing the tone of the online learning community, communicating the learning outcomes or competencies in terms that will be understood by the learner is part of the second QM Standard.  Boettcher and Conrad (2010) advise that clear expectations not only help to “ensure understanding and satisfaction in an online course,” (p. 55), but also help alleviate misunderstandings and will go far in the development of the online learning community.

An additional consideration when creating an online environment concerns student support.  QM Standard 7 is concerned with ensuring students know what services are available to them and how to access them.  In my past with online courses, part of the feeling of isolation stemmed from knowing there were services at campus, but assuming they were not available for me as an online student.  Making the information part of the online environment may go far in ensuring the learner feels comfortable in reaching out for academic or personal help if necessary. 

Launching an effective and engaging online learning experience requires not only an understanding of how to use technology, communicate with learners, and inform them of expectations and services, but also a good foundation in learning theory.  From an instructional designer point of view, I feel that the foundation in learning theory helps to drive the decisions I make when creating an online course.  The Quality Matters Standards offers those who may not have that foundation an excellent framework to use when creating an online course.  I am learning in my own practice to use the QM Standards as a common ground with instructors who, while experts in their own fields, may not have a foundation in learning theory.

References

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survial guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experiences [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.walden.edu
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.walden.edu

Quality Matters Program. (2015, January). Standards for the QM Higher Education Rubric, Fifth Edition. Retrieved from Quality Matters: www.qualitymatters.org

4 comments:

  1. Great job Rebecca!
    You said, " When setting up an online learning experience, the instructor (or designer) needs to consider the available technology. Standard 6 of the Quality Matters (QM) Rubric (2015) is concerned with course technology and state that technology should not only engage and support the learner, but should support the learning outcomes as well. This is supported by Drs. Pratt and Palloff (Laureate Education (Producer), 2010) in their advice to not use technology if it does not help build to the outcomes. If it does not strengthen the course, then it may become nothing more than a distraction. Knowing what technology is available and how to use it effectively can help enrich the online environment and improve student engagement (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010; Conrad & Donaldson, 2011)." This make so much sense an instructional designer needs to carefully plan and create an online environment where the students needs can be met regardless of where they are. Students need to feel apart of the learning and be able to participate and get their questions and concerns addressed in due time. As an instructional designer it is best to consider the students and how technological savvy they are. The course needs to be designed in a way that will enable the students to navigate and find all the materials they need to fully function and participate in the course.

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  2. Donnett,
    Students being able to navigate the course may likely be one of the main determinants for their success. I have been told by several students that a particular professor's course is so difficult to navigate that they just didn't know where to start! Nor did they even know how to contact him as that information was impossible to find.

    I think it is easy to take it for granted that learners will be able to navigate the course. What the instructor might think is organized and intuitive may be in a complete disarray from the perspective of the student!

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  3. I agree with you, basic expectations should also communicate pre-requisite knowledge. I liked the icebreaker activities in Engaging the Online Learner, the authors Conrad and Donaldson (2011, pg. 38) also noted “once the instructor determines the course requirements, the skill level of the students needs to be determined”. Along with providing students with a pre-course skills assessment, I also believe that it is important that pre-requisites to courses be communicated by the academic organization or any organization for the matter, prior to enrollment so that learners are not blindsided by what’s expected of them.
    Reference:
    Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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    Replies
    1. Keisha,
      That is such an important point! We have an issue with some academic advisors who grant access to the program's 101 class without checking the prerequisite math skills, and equally importantly, letting them know that they must enroll in not just one course, but also three others!

      I like the idea of ice-breakers that can help the instructor assess skills before the course really starts. People with no real interest or a misunderstanding of the topic can quickly find themselves in way over their head.

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