Enrollment in online courses is growing and growing. In 2018, almost seven million students enrolled in online courses. In 2020, 82% of K-12 students attended schools that offered some form of distance learning. But what makes a good, high-quality online course? We know there are standards for assessing good teaching practice, but online it’s different. It requires the integration of technology, communication and learning, which is not the same as traditional in the classroom. The evaluation of what constitutes an effective online course must be based on various criteria.
Then how do you decide what the model for effectiveness is? Is it how many good grades there are or how many students pass? Is it the course that has the best post-course reviews? Is it the most attractive course or who has the most enrollments per semester? How about the most technical ones with fancy software or links? We should consider best practices and then design according to the needs of the students and the institution. What makes a good online course should align with the school’s overall assessment goals and strategies.
Opinions differ on what makes a good and effective course. According to some, faculty contact, technology application, collaborative learning, varied learning, active learning, expectations, time for assignments, and timely feedback should be included and reviewed in a quality online course. Others cite the right pace for students to study and work appropriately. Good courses create a sense of community where students interact with others, ask questions, and form peer groups. They also include multimedia such as videos, interactive activities, podcasts and have built-in opportunities for self-paced learning. Courses should be easy to navigate, have alternative routes of exploration for students who may want to learn more, and appeal to all learning styles and needs.
Is it the technology that makes a good course? It’s often tempting to pack a lot of high-tech elements into a course. However, good courses avoid too much technology as it can be overwhelming and distracting from learning. Some say that including videos in your course does it well. Videos in courses allow an instructor to create a sense of presence in an online course and provide information in usable, smaller, retainable chunks. They also encourage designing courses with accessibility and data collection in mind to measure and analyze opportunities for improvement.
Course design is a very important component that affects online student performance and engagement. Some studies show that accessibility, assessment and interaction are very important. The way the trainer divided or organized the material in the course, interacted with the students, provided assessment and adjusted the objectives was highly rated. Courses that included additional reading, quizzes, video lectures, and opportunities for reflection and higher-order thinking, and used many different ways to apply what was learned were quality courses. Other reports cite components for teachers as the most important method of assessment. Teachers should know their material well so they can answer questions and provide additional information if needed. Course design should accommodate all learning styles.
Communication is also important. Expectations should be clear and contact information should be provided for technical support and instructor and resource documents should be provided to learn how to use discussion forums, social media, chat and email. The syllabus and other courseware should be easy to find and use with simple course navigation. Another study identified course facilitation skills as the most important element for an effective engagement course. These strategies should improve student presence, connection, engagement, and learning. Faculty recommended using a variety of assessments, rubrics, course templates, a review process for quality assurance, and data collection for analysis.
Timely response and feedback, availability and presence, and regular communication were some of the facilitation strategies used by the award-winning trainers.
As you can see, a school or institution’s perspective has a huge impact on what makes an effective online course. If the goal is to measure learning, surveys and post-assessments can be an appropriate benchmark. This can be as simple as having students rate teacher performance, or checking pass/fail rates or student completion/dropout rates in online courses. This can be the ease of use and how positive the reactions to the interface used are. An institution might also have a Quality Standards section with pre-set items that should be incorporated into an online course. The key is to align these standards with the school’s strategic planning and what will benefit the students the most. This plan should be consistently applied to each existing and new course to measure success year after year. After a few years, reviews should be carried out to ensure that these measures are still correct and standards are being met. The bottom line is that you can choose any element you want, but ultimately, using a consistent approach is what ensures an effective online course and online learning program.
Thanks to Melissa A. Andrews