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.
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