Consistency is what makes a quality online course
Online course enrollment is growing and growing. In 2018, nearly seven million students enrolled in online courses. In 2020, 82% of K-12 students attended schools that offered some type of distance learning. But what makes a good and quality online course? We know there are standards for evaluating good teaching practice, but online is different. This requires an integration of technology, communication and learning that is not the same as traditional classrooms. Evaluating what makes an effective online course should be based on different criteria.
How then do you decide what the performance model is? Is it how many high marks there are or how many students pass? Is this the course that has the best post-course ratings? Is this the most attractive course or who has the most enrollments per semester? How about the most technical with fancy software or connections? We need to consider best practices and then design accordingly based on the needs of the students and the institution. What makes a good online course must fit into the school’s overarching assessment goals and school strategies.
Opinions differ on what makes a good and effective course. According to some, contact with student faculty, application of technology, collaborative learning, diversified learning, active learning, expectations, time on task, and prompt feedback should be included and reviewed in a quality online course. Others list what is an appropriate pace for students to learn and work appropriately. Good courses provide 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 self-study capabilities. Courses should be easy to navigate, have alternative exploration routes for students who may want to learn more, and appeal to all learning styles and needs.
Does technology make a good course? It is often tempting to include a lot of high-tech elements in a course. However, good courses avoid using too much technology because it can be overwhelming and actually distract from learning. Some say that including videos in your course makes it good. Videos in courses allow the instructor to create a sense of presence in an online course and deliver information in usable, smaller chunks that can be retained. They also promote the design of courses with accessibility in mind and the collection of data to measure and analyze opportunities for improvement.
Course design is a very important component that affects student performance and engagement online. Some studies show that accessibility, evaluation and interaction are very important. The way the instructor divided or organized course material, interacted with students, provided assessment and aligned objectives was rated highly. Courses that included additional readings, tests, 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 list teacher components as the most important assessment method. Teachers need to know their material well to be able to answer questions and provide more information if needed. Course design should take into account all learning styles.
Communication is also important. Expectations should be clear and contact information for technology support should be provided, along with instructor documentation and resources on how to use discussion forums, social media, chat, and email. The syllabus and other course documents should be easy to find and use with easy course navigation. Yet another study points to course facilitation skills as the most important element of an effective engagement course. These strategies were designed to improve instructor presence, rapport, engagement, and student learning. Faculty recommend the use of various assessments, rubrics, course templates, a quality assurance review process, and data collection for analyses.
Timely response and feedback, availability and presence, and periodic communication were some of the facilitation strategies that award-winning instructors used.
As you can see, the perspective of the school or institution greatly influences what makes an effective online course. If the goal is to measure learning, then surveys and subsequent assessments may be an appropriate measure. It can be as simple as student evaluations of instructor performance, or reviewing pass/fail rates or pass/drop rates in online courses. It could be the ease of use and how positive the reactions are to the interface used. An institution may also have a rubric of quality standards with predefined items that must be included in an online course. The key is to align these standards with the school’s strategic planning and what is best for students. This plan should be applied consistently to each existing and new course with a way to measure success year after year. After a few years, reviews should be carried out to ensure that these measures are still correct and that standards are being met. The bottom line is that you can choose any element you want, but using a consistent approach is ultimately what ensures an effective online course and online training program.
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