What to Consider When Creating an Online Course

By: Danielle Chazen



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From parents with young children to those who lack means of transportation or are employed full-time, online course offerings can remove a significant barrier standing in the way of their ability to earn an education and a degree.

Online courses present countless benefits, including meeting the expectations and needs of today’s tech savvy, remote world. Yet designing an online course that will effectively engage, educate and satisfy students can prove to be trickier.

So what makes a good online course? Make-or-break factors of a good online course include opportunities for engaging students with clear goals, high performing technology, learning through interactivity, and teaching with a balance of theory and practice.

Start by Outlining Clear Goals

Professors with good online courses spend the first session going through the syllabus clearly. It’s beneficial to be overly explicit and detailed in an online syllabus versus an offline one. From elaborating on key expectations to showcasing tools to facilitating communication between peers, this first session can set the course and its students up for success. Professors can also create online discussion forums focused on FAQs on the course overall, which may be helpful for all students.

Further, online educators should make communication channels clear. Students need to know exactly how to reach you, when best to reach you for immediate answers and how to troubleshoot other issues of miscommunication which can occur from a lack of face-to-face interaction.

Technical Quality

The same way you specify the expectations of an online course in detail, ensure you’re providing a clear overview of the technology and platforms being used. Professors who invest in elearning development and elearning innovation, including testing new technologies as they become available, will often see the best success rates.

A good online course will have a user-friendly interface to provide students with a seamless, intuitive experience. Effective online courses are designed for the online experience; they are not about ‘copy-pasting’ the face-to-face lecture experience into the online course world. Employing the added benefits of online technology that can’t necessarily be provided in offline courses can also be one of the biggest drivers of a successful online course.

Incorporating technology tools that fuel accessibility and account for various learning styles and abilities can greatly aid in students’ abilities to succeed.

Capturing clear video is ideal, but strong audio is crucial. If the students can’t hear and digest the information clearly, they won’t be successful. Providing students with captions can help in situations when the audio might cut out, but also to serve as an additional visual aid. Captions not only help students who are deaf or hard of hearing, but all students. This visual aid is already being employed by many students when they watch YouTube and Netflix, as it serves as an additional method for information retention.

Additionally, good online courses provide transcripts of the sessions to students. Advanced transcripts, like the ones provided by Verbit, allow students to take notes within the transcript while they’re consuming information, which can also help with engagement. Providing multiple methods of learning, including closed captions and transcriptions, ensures you’re not only meeting ADA requirements and the needs of students navigating disabilities, but meeting the different learning styles of all students learning online.

Finally, it’s crucial to enlist superb tech support. Not all professors are tech savvy, even if they are charged with leading an online course. You want a team on hand to help troubleshoot any tech or IT issues quickly. Enlist these experts to also ensure that your platform and materials operate on different browsers and different devices. Testing these items ahead of time can prevent hassle later on.
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A Balance Between Theory & Practical Examples

Preventing mismatches between academic qualifications and real-world job requirements is crucial to the learning success of all students. In today’s technology-driven world, theoretical and practical know-how should complement each other. Good online course instructors and designers keep this in mind.

According to University World News, employers increasingly favor “graduates who possess both up-to-date technical and soft skills for the new workplace (which include analytic thinking, collaboration and individual initiative as well as computer skills and fluency in international languages).”

Good online course professors should be able to impart their relevant learning experiences as they pertain to current industry practices and create links between practical know-how to research and theory. The online environment, which allows for the implementation of multiple materials and formats for learning, is prime for this kind of balanced teaching.

A Mix of Interactive Elements

Interactive elements allow this balance between theory and practical examples to come to life. They also help to drive online student engagement and account for various learning styles. Good online courses grab and retain students’ attention with a mix of videos, interactive activities, live polls, podcasts and other multimedia elements.

“To make multimedia use successful, these elements must always have a solid purpose and must be done in a professional way,” Jamie Littlefield, a distance education expert told eCampus News.

Accounting for different principles and preferences of learning ensures your courses are as engaging as possible. Offline course lectures often separate content from engagement. The professor lectures and students are assigned materials to engage with later as homework. In the online classroom environment, platforms like VoiceThread, help teachers intersperse activities into their content to facilitate instant application and retention.

The use of multiple interactive elements drives gamification in eLearning as well. Good online courses provide engaging, informal learning environments that help students practice real world life situations and challenges.

When students are presented with gamification in eLearning, they thrive. Providing opportunities for them to master tasks, compete, self-express and earn rewards is helpful in driving student success rates and engagement online.

Building A Community

Online students will feel more invested, satisfied and perform better when there is a sense of community. It’s easier to achieve personal connections offline, so looking for ways to build connections among online students is important for a course’s overall success.

Project work and peer review helps to facilitate social learning opportunities that also connect concepts with real-world applications. Technology and gamification can also be utilized in these formats, bringing students together in virtual environments to achieve tasks or assignments collaboratively.

Good online course instructors are attune to happenings in their online community and regularly read and engage with online forums to better understand student challenges, challenges with the technology being used, the need for more accessible materials and more. A professor who not only listens, but encourages engagement and regularly posts will be the most successful in driving his or her students’ success.

A Complement to Offline Learning

It’s also important to note that e-learning and online courses can also positively impact traditional education paths, as they can be used as an addition to offline learning.

One example includes offering a course with a coveted professor online when the lecture cannot accommodate the number of students who would like to enroll. It can also be helpful to offline students have semesters with difficult courses and may choose to take an online course over the summer or during a break to lighten their load while enrolled in multiple challenging offline courses.

Online learning presents opportunities for students and professors to interact and connect globally, which can prove to be a learning experience in and of itself. This capability, coupled with the diversity of online offerings and programs available to students that can transfer toward their degrees is vast. The onus just then falls on the instructional designers and professors to ensure these online courses are designed well.