These days, things are evolving and everything is starting to go online, even the learning process. Whether it's for higher education, corporate training, or just brushing up on a new skill, more and more people are turning to the online learning community to further their education.
While online learning is still a fairly new concept—the first online courses appeared in the early 1990s, but did not gain popularity until the late 2000s—it has recently become a major part of our culture. And with the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020, there was a sudden shift to online education for everyone from kindergarten students to workplace executives.
Online classes have been shown to be an effective learning strategy when the content is high-quality and delivered appropriately. In an interview with Christine Greenhow, an associate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, she notes that researchers found the online learning process to be even more effective than in-person learning in some cases, but it has to be done right.
So how can an online course be improved? Ensure that your course offers effective online teaching and active learning opportunities to improve the online course experience for your audience.
In this article, we'll share some techniques for how to improve online classes so your students get the most from their experience and want to come back for more!
Online classes enable students to learn new things and gain valuable skills from instructors that may not have been accessible to them in a physical classroom. They also tend to be less expensive than private or in-person classes. They're usually recorded, so online learners are able to go back and watch the lesson until they feel comfortable with the topic.
While it is a convenient and cost-effective way for course creators to make money, online teaching can have its challenges. Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your online course and make sure your students are getting the most out of their experience.
According to National University, the top 4 challenges associated with online coursework that educators should be aware of are:
One of the main challenges with online classes is that students can easily fall into the trap of spending too much or too little time on coursework vs other important things, such as their job or their personal life. This usually happens when there is no one to hold them accountable or when they are working on multiple assignments or projects that are due at the same time.
Whether the online course is used for higher education, corporate training, or personal use, it is important for the student to know how much time should be spent on the material. As a course creator, you can help mitigate this problem by providing clear learning outcomes and giving students an estimate of how much time it will take to get through the course materials.
When attending an in-person class, it is easy to ask the teacher a question or get help from peers in the class. With online classes, this type of communication can be difficult to achieve—the instructor may not be available outside of office hours, there is no direct line of contact with peers, etc. Misunderstandings can easily happen when there is no immediate communication and, if not caught early, can lead to a lesser understanding of the material being presented.
When creating your online courses, consider adding group projects, a chat forum, or access to other online environments like Facebook, Slack groups, or Google Hangouts. This can help ensure students have additional access to your expertise are building relationships with other learners who share their interests.
Another challenge with online learning is that students may not receive feedback in a timely manner, if at all. This can be frustrating for the student, as they are not able to get clarification on assignments or ideas when needed. In addition, this type of situation can lead to a feeling of isolation, as the student is not receiving the support they need from their instructor.
If you are teaching a course in the context of higher education, the learning experience likely includes some sort of grading process and feedback similar to if the students were taking a traditional paper exam. If your digital content is geared towards hobbyists or entrepreneurs, you may need to be creative in providing other forms of feedback.
This is similar to the previous challenge but can happen even before the course begins. If the expectations or instructions for a course are not clear, it can lead to confusion and frustration for the online learner. This is a common challenge with online courses, as the material may be presented in a different format than what the student is used to (i.e. a video instead of a written assignment).
When you create your course description and outline, be sure to clearly state in plain language what the learner can expect to achieve. If specific digital tools are needed to complete the course (like Photoshop or other paid software subscriptions) make sure to communicate that upfront so students know they will be expected to purchase the tools on their own.
Now that we've looked at some of the challenges associated with online education in the digital world, let's take a look at some suggestions to improve online learning and encourage students to keep coming back!
One way to improve your teaching online is to help students manage their time more effectively. This can be done by providing them with a suggested schedule of when to complete each module or how long a project should take.
If the course is being recorded and used on a learning management system like Udemy, Skillshare, or Coursera, struggling students probably don't have office hours or check-ins available to them because the structure of on-demand learning is different than an online college course, for example.
You can always recommend tips you personally find useful to improve time management or streamline projects for online students. Your course introduction or overview module would be a great place to include these resources.
When creating an online class, it is important to be clear about what the objectives and goals of the course are. This means that the instructor should have a clear understanding of what they want their students to learn by the end of the course.
By being clear about the objectives from the start, it will be easier to create assignments and projects that align with those goals. In addition, the students will be able to better gauge their own progress and understanding of the material.
Along with having specific learning objectives, it is important for the goals of the course to be clear and attainable. This means that the students should not feel overwhelmed by the course goals and that they are able to complete them within a reasonable time frame.
This concept also applies to each section and lesson. For example, if you are teaching a course on fitness and weight loss and the overall goal is to lose 20 pounds in 4 weeks, then the goal of module 1 could be to lose 5 pounds, and each lesson could have individual goals like learning specific exercises, how to count calories, improving sleep, etc.
As students go through the course, they will feel a sense of accomplishment as they complete each goal and this will help them to stay motivated.
Providing a positive and inclusive experience can greatly improve your online instruction. This can be done by combining various formats and learning practices, like adding images, videos, audio, pdfs, and activities to your online classrooms.
Including multiple formats allows students to learn in the way that best suits them. Some students prefer to read information, while others prefer to watch a video or listen to audio. By providing a range of ways for students to learn, students can participate at a variety of different levels. This is not only helpful for them, but it also means your courses will have higher engagement and completion rates.
In addition to various formats for providing information in your online classroom, another way to improve the online environment is by creating a community and social space. This can be done by including discussion forums, chat rooms, or social media groups for the students.
This allows participants to connect with other students, share ideas, and collaborate on projects. In addition, it can help build a sense of community and belonging. When students can post online to ask questions or share insights, you will see an uptick in engagement in your social groups, which can lead to new members and even more course sales.
The length of your online coursework can also impact the overall experience for students. This is something that you will need to consider when creating and marketing your courses.
While there is no right or wrong answer to the length of your course, in general, shorter courses are more likely to be completed than longer ones. This is especially true if the course is self-paced. It may be helpful if each lesson is broken down into smaller chunks to ensure the full attention of the students. This may mean that instead of hitting on multiple points in one video, you are focusing on one or two and using these to set specific goals.
Quality works hand-in-hand with the length of the courses. The information should be accurate, organized, and presented in a way that is easy to understand. Some instructors spend too much time on the production of the video and not enough time on the actual content. Others bury the information or use difficult language.
It's important to remember, the people watching your videos may not be familiar with the information, especially in a more advanced course. Poor quality can lead to a negative experience for students and can ultimately lead to them dropping out of the course.
Think about your own experiences with online learning. What stands out in your mind that you found very helpful? Is it that the instructor created very clear learning goals, so you knew what to expect? Or that the content was well-organized and followed a logical sequence? Use these experiences to improve online learning for your own students.
Quality also refers to the physical quality of your content. Videos should be easy to watch and listen to. If the video quality is blurry or lagging, or if the audio is constantly dropping, students will become frustrated and have a higher tendency to drop out or not continue on with any of your additional courses.
Creating high-quality, engaging, and inclusive online coursework takes time. It's important to revise and refine your courses on a regular basis. This ensures that the information is accurate and up-to-date. As you get feedback from students or other instructors, make sure to take this into account and change the course if necessary.
When you are open to refining and updating your work over time, you will support innovative teaching and learning opportunities and your course will stay relevant for the foreseeable future.
Once someone has purchased your course, you will want to continue providing high-quality content that is interesting and relevant to keep them around. This can be done by using titles and copy that are catchy and draw the attention of the reader. This is your opportunity to persuade them to watch the video, read the article, or participate in the activity.
In addition, you should make sure the tone of your course is consistent. This means using the same voice and personality throughout the course. This will help create a more cohesive experience for students and make it more likely that they will continue on with the course.
When thinking about how to improve online learning, don’t forget to make the experience fun to increase student engagement!
This can be done by incorporating project-based learning, adding humor, or using creative visuals. Create videos that reflect your personality and make you stand out as a unique expert in your field. Consider using badges or points to reward students for completing activities or milestones. You can also create leaderboards to add a sense of competition. Research shows that students tend to learn more when they are engaging in active-learning strategies vs traditional lectures.
If you've created an online class that has gotten great feedback from participants, we want to know what you've done to make your teaching successful. And if you're just starting out and have more questions about how to improve online learning, we want to hear from you, too.
Connect with the community in our Facebook group to ask and answer questions about how to provide active learning opportunities that will make you a top course creator!