It shouldn’t take much to produce a great online educational experience for those who want to learn. Some presenters make it look like the easiest thing in the world to accomplish: their students for online courses and multi-session workshops find a few simple and clearly marked links to course materials so that all the learners have to do is follow the steps in sequence to find what they are meant to see.
It is not, however, always this good; having completed a variety of online courses recently, I have to say that when online leaning misses, it really misses. And, as always, I learned again what none of us wants to do when we serve as instructors in front of a class (virtual or otherwise): confuse learners to the point of almost irreversible frustration.
Much of what works online is what has always worked onsite. Instructors who are well organized and clear—to their students, not just to themselves—are essential. They have to know how—and remember—to present information in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. Their assistance, support, and feedback must be delivered in a timely manner. And they have to connect their presentations to quizzes, exercises, and assignments which reinforce what is being taught so students are conscious of what they have learned. Much of what doesn’t work only becomes worse in online offerings because the opportunity for interactions between instructors and students is often less immediate.
A poorly designed online course map—that critically important initial online page which leads to all an instructor intends to offer—can make or break a learner’s spirit. It sends students on time-consuming searches for lessons and documents which should have been at their fingertips. The ensuing frustration clearly hinders learning just when the student should most be drawn into what the course could offer.
So, kudos to the instructors whose initial links from course maps are simple, direct, and well differentiated: “announcements,” “course information,” “course material,” “roster,” and “communication.” And, for those who provide two or three times as many options (poorly defined and overlapping in what they contain), let’s all hope that they will spend a little time looking at their more organized and effective colleagues’ offerings so that they and their students will have the sort of positive teaching-training-learning experience that everyone expects. And deserves.