What do students get when they sign up for an ‘Online Course’?

What do students get when they sign up for an ‘Online Course’?

Another day, another eLearning job. I’ve made the move to Canada and am working at a large technical school in Vancouver area, and though my office has many more resources than my last position, the systematic issues persist, ones that seem to be pervasive through the eLearning field.

So what am I ranting about today? All the flavours of online courses that seem to mix and bubble and boil over all over the place.

What types of online courses have you taken? What types does your school offer? I’m sure we can name many, but the rhetorical question here is ‘are these differences clear to students’?

Types of Courses

Lets go through them shall we?

  1. Riveting online courses — these are the ones we as eLearning professionals aspire to have running all the time. They are just amazing. Students are motivated, engaged, interested and loving their learning experiences, while the instructor has worked hard with eLearning support staff to build a great online course, and is in there every day participating and facilitating their students learning.
  2. eCorrespondence Course — I call these ‘pony express’ courses. These are basically correspondence courses moved online, with print materials and PPTs thrown online, with a couple of exams and wham! bam! I just designed an online course! Sorry. Shut up. No you didn’t.
  3. Online Face to Face Course — this type of course is usually taught by instructors who don’t want to fully let go of the control they have in the classroom. F2F is their security blanket, so they just feel more comfortable taking it online. It requires many syncronous meetings, ether by webinar, phone or video conference, which actually makes the course less flexible in its delivery.
  4. MOOC — Massive Open online Courses. These actually come in two flavours. Either it has a learning community built in where students are able to interact, support each other and get support from the instructor as they work through the materials and assignments. The other is just a posting of online materials again — basically a MOPE (Massive Open Pony Express) course.

There are many more sub-types and blendings of the above that I could talk about, but the core here is there are distinct types of online courses, based on very different student experiences.

A Simple Plan

Everywhere I’ve worked, there has been a different model for getting an online course up and running. Sometimes there’s no oversight and support, other times there’s so much bureaucracy, paperwork and oversight, there is no time for support.

One thing is clear, a good eLearning strategy is a really hard thing to come by. This would involve eLearning staff, administrators and faculty working together to develop plans for what the institution wants to do. I’ve heard too many times “the institution wants to grow its distance and online course capabilities”. Great, but what does that mean? Adding more online courses? How?

The perfect eLearning Strategy should have 3 parts to it.

  1. First, the institution needs to decide the type of online courses it wishes to offer. Independent of hybrid and blended models, of the 4 main types of courses mentioned above, all of them will take different resources and approaches to be developed, so this should be taken into consideration when deciding what to offer.
  2. Next, a strategy for the development and continued improvement of these courses should be established. This includes any professional development, hardware and software resources needed, quality control processes and anything else that would lend to the creation of a great learning experience in whatever course type is created. As part of this, there also needs to be structure behind involvement of the instructor, with regards to how often they’re expected to check in on the class and when. I would strongly argue against specific times due to the nature and flexibility of the online modality.
  3. Last is a marketing strategy for students, so they know exactly what type of course they’re taking when they sign up for it. Too many times, I’ve heard of students enrolling in an online course and expecting one type and getting something completely different. We need to be clear about what courses we have on offer, so students can make the right decision for themselves based on their needs.

You’d think all of these things would be easy to work on, and to implement, but you’d be wrong, because I’ve yet to see it in practice. I wish you all godspeed.