MOOCs and various online courses are often criticized for their high drop-out ratios and inability to motivate learners to persist. These online courses often replicate monotonous face-to-face learning without overcoming its inefficiencies.
The provision of anywhere, anytime learning has become the USP of online learning. But the same USP (anywhere, anytime) is currently proving to be not so favorable for it. Since the learners are at distance, they may feel isolated in absence of a teacher figure and other peers leading to eventual decline in their motivation to continue with the course.
This is true that institutionalized education provided in schools and colleges do not cater to individual needs and differences of learners. Yet, with the entire system in place, teachers’ presence building trust among learners is also equally true. At least, for a while now until the psychological shadow of the old system persists! The student attaches himself/herself to the teacher mentally and affectively even if the teacher may not take cognizance of them personally.
So, the challenge of online learning on the one hand is to build trust among learners and to bring pedagogical innovations to overcome deficiencies of old system on the other. It is essential to understand that pedagogy is the soul and technology is just a vehicle for transmission of learning in a more effective manner. More often than not, pedagogy is either undermined or is neglected in online courses. Which is why learners become reluctant to try these courses which don’t ease off the learning burden.
Therefore, just creating a repository of books, information, and learning resources at one place will not lead to the scaffolding of learning process. For learners to feel the total experience of learning, an environment thoughtfully curated and grounded in pedagogical principles is a must.
10 Most Effective OLE-Designing Strategies
Let’s have a look on 10 most effective strategies you must not ignore if you wish to retain your students in your online course. The article will take you step wise from the day students get enrolled till they successfully complete the course.
1. Mentoring and Scaffolding
The role of a mentor starts from the day 1 of the course. An introductory video by the teachers and course designers giving a brief about the course, its outline, objectives, benefits, credits, time required for various tasks, and the ways to complete it successfully will go a long way in helping learners get a clear picture about the course and what they are supposed to do in it.
The course should be supplemented by 24×7 continuous access to teachers via synchronous (chats and video conferencing) and asynchronous (mails and threaded discussions) means. The online environment must fill the void created by physical absence of teacher. The teacher in turn must act as a facilitator and provide continuous feedback and responses.
Considering role of a teacher getting diminished in OLE is a myth. Instead, teaching is going to become one of the most challenging jobs in coming decades. A teacher in OLE will design the course on basis of pedagogic principles and curriculum, will decide the most apt technological tools, and will respond to learners’ queries. Besides, motivating learners and overseeing the OLE will important tasks of a teacher. In such learning ecosystems, teacher will become critical in scaffolding learners to help them reach their zone of proximal development.
The teacher will conduct interactive sessions as and when required, track learners’ progress, and help them in successfully completing the course. In nutshell, teachers’ role in an OLE if not paramount will be as important as it is now in the face-to-face environment.
2. Collaboration and Active Learning
The OLE must give ample chances to learners for interacting and collaborating. This may begin with making their profiles containing their personal details and connecting details (facebook, instagram, or linkedin profile links) which can be looked by co-students and teachers. The profiles will help learners not to feel isolated and help teachers to know more about the learner.
Threaded Discussion forums or comment section must be provided which not only helps in clearing doubts but also brings in experiential learning of different learners adding to one another’s knowledge. Other collaborative tools which can be utilized are creating wiki pages, Google docs, tagging, bookmarking, etc. which can be co-shared, edited, or modified. This will inspire active learning among the learners where they take charge of their own learning by making it meaningful and contextual.
3. Designing Small and Independent Learning Modules
Based on the principles of chunking and attention span, courses must be so designed that they are adequately small and complete in themselves. Too small, or too lengthy modules, so to say, neither motivate learners nor make them feel interested. Also, if the learning modules are complete in themselves, the learner gets the autonomy to sift between the modules which interest him first.
The principles of instructional designing might be employed while designing the modules. The components of each learning module must be similar to that of the course plan. These include introductory session, learning topics and content, check your understanding session followed by assessment session and further reading links.
4. Multimedia and Multi-modal Approach
Research has proven that children learn more when they are provided with multiple ways of learning a thing using multiple media. The same goes true with adults too! An OLE must try to include various modes like lecture, demonstration, discussion, activity learning, case studies, and learning by doing appropriate to the learning content. This removes monotony and helps in continuation of student interest with ‘what might be the next in store for him’ in the course.
We all have heard of learning styles and that every person has one or the other preference for a particular learning style. There are three major learning styles: visual, aural, and kinesthetic (VAK). In an ideal state, recognizing one’s learning style and providing inputs accordingly is mandate. However, a good mix of all types of media is likely to help all learners because the more senses we engage while we learn, the better we understand.
Use of documents, e-books, links of other resources outside of OLE, learning objects like graphics, animations, images, flowcharts, mind maps, flash cards, audio recordings, podcasts, videos, videocasts, 3D simulations etc. will definitely boost learning by making OLE vibrant and dynamic.
5. Gamification of Learning
Games are always exciting and engaging for the young learners. Boredom associated with traditional method of learning can be removed to a large extent through gamification of learning. There are many concepts which can be made to understand through simulated gaming environment or avatar based gamification.
Gamification has been especially found effective in learning of soft skills like time management, mission accomplishment, taking risks and challenges, problem solving, logical thinking, disaster management, etc. The games also have points, bonuses, and levels which serves as rewards and reinforcement for the learners. Hence, having a component of games will surely entertain as well as teach the learners in a more attentive manner.
6. Visualizing Abstractions via VLE and AR
Learning is always said to proceed from known to unknown and from concrete to abstract. Not all learners are imaginative and think in terms of abstraction, and this ability to imagine differs from person to person as per their learning pace and developmental stage. Technologies can be used to build 3D animations of abstract concepts and converting them into VLE so that learners may easily grasp even the abstract concepts. Similarly, augmented reality (AR) provides a better picture with minute detailing of the real world.
7. Tracking Progress and Monitoring Performance (AI-backed Adaptive Platform)
No learning can be fruitful if it isn’t monitored both by the teacher and the learner. The new AI-based adaptive platforms can easily track learner’s progress in each of the learning modules and provide a detailed summary of the same. The teacher gets insight on which topics the learner is facing difficulty in and provide remedial measures for improvement. This is akin to bringing personalization of learning which is liked the most by the learners. The learners also get instant feedback of his/her performance and is guided throughout the course for faring successfully.
8. Strong Student Support System
During the course, learners may encounter various kinds of difficulties like not being able to navigate through the course, facing technical difficulties, unable to understand some instructions, or submit assignments etc. Most of the learners drop out from the course because of no student support in place. Therefore, it is crucial to provide the requisite and prompt student support as and when necessary.
The common support in form of videos explaining how to navigate through the course and technical requirements will benefit all the learners. Personalized learner support meeting personal requirements of every learner will further help in retaining the learners in an online course.
9. Reflective Learning Activities
Self-expression is considered as the highest form of learning. In Edgar Dale’s learning cone, teaching others has been contemplated to be 90% effective as a learning method. A good OLE must provide such activities which incite the learners towards self-reflection of their learning. Activities like creating a blog, e-portfolio, a video, or a podcast on learning acquired can develop the ability to reflect.
10. Placement Opportunities/Future Scope and Follow-up
A good online course is one which has a database of its alumni and keeps a follow-up with them. A feature could be to provide them news of openings and placement or higher education opportunities from time to time. This creates trust among the learners and they feel associated with the course for long. Taking learners’ feedback will help in improvising the course for the next cycle of course design.
So, if you have designed, or thinking of designing an online course, these 10 strategies will serve as a checklist. There are online vendors/platforms for buying and selling online courses. You can opt for any one of them and get going. A little publicity and marketing will certainly boost enrollments. But the most important thing for the success of your online course will be to deliver quality courses capable of retaining students.