Practical guidelines for designing online courses

Jacqueline Wong

Although there is an increase use of online learning all over the world, the understanding of how to engage online students is still limited. Hew (2018) argued that understanding the factors related to the engagement of online students is important because engagement is necessary for online learning. To understand the factors related to online engagement, the author conducted a study in which participants’ reflections or reviews of 10 highly rated MOOCs were analysed. The findings revealed that the four most frequently mentioned factors that concerned students’ engagement in online courses were a) problem-centric learning, b) active learning supported by feedback, c) course resources, and d) instructors’ attributes. In addition, nine reasons were identified as contributing factors to students’ frustrations: a) forum-related issues, b) peer-related issues, c) assignment-related issues, d) dissatisfaction with the topics, e) unclear instructions and wordings, f) Boring or tough reading materials, g) deadlines, h) lack of instructor feedback, and i) video-style. 

Based on the findings, the author proposed the following practical guidelines for online courses:

Problem-centric learning

  • Use authentic examples and experiences (both successful and unsuccessful one) to facilitate meaning making
  • Give practical or interesting tips and tools should be provided whenever possible
  • Make explanations easy to understand
  • Use opinions of guest speakers to enrich learning

Active learning with feedback

  • Align lectures to activities 
  • Use questions that require application of knowledge rather than recall of information
  • Design activities to allow practice of principles taught
  • Give feedback (e.g., immediate, peer evaluation, instructor solution) 

Instructor availability

  • Designate regular virtual time to for student-instructor interaction
  • Use help desk service to direct students’ enquiries to appropriate channels
  • Identify most common questions (make use of up-vote functions) and address them
  • Use live video-stream sessions to increase student-instructor interaction (e.g., Google+ Hangout sessions)

Course resources

  • Video-related design
    • Supplement short video clips with relevant visuals
    • Add variety by shooting video in different footage
    • Show faces of instructors on video but it is not necessary to show the face throughout
    • Use in video quizzes or segment the videos to shorter clips rather than a whole chunk
  • Optional resources
    • Provide additional resources, different challenges or tracks
    • Include lecture notes or slides for the videos
    • Offer video transcript or subtitles

Peer Interaction

  • Give marks for students’ post
  • Allow students to interact with one another for peer grading
  • Organize virtual live sessions for instructors and peers to interact

Hew, K. F. (2018). Unpacking the Strategies of Ten Highly Rated MOOCs: Implications for Engaging Students in Large Online Courses. Teachers College Record120(1), n1.

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