With the Internet becoming such a prevalent part of life, it is no wonder that it is steadily becoming a part of the educational experience. This article focuses on online learning how it developed, what factors to consider when developing an online course, the rationale for creating an online learning environment, the different types of online learning and tips for maintaining and optimizing an online course.
Online learning is the use of multimedia tools and technologies (i.e. computers, videos, kiosks) through electronic means to demonstrate and/or teach a concept and/or skill.
Did you know that when you insert a keyword into a search engine that is a method of online learning?
Over 70% of people, use online search sites as a way of conducting secondary research. However, it is up to the web user to determine which information is considered important and reliable. When the results appear on a webpage after a keyword search, most people view results from the first two pages. Using online search is seen as an “unstructured learning environment” since there is no set agenda or sequence for learning (As opposed to a structured learning environment in which the resources (including text and hyperlinks) are in a comprehensive format, such as a webpage or a compact disk (CD).)
Someone may be searching for a particular product. There is no “pre-determined” path or procedure, as long as they find the product. When consumers visit different sites to compare prices, it is a method of online learning. Some people refer friends and relatives to their online “wish-list”. Why? So that they can learn what gifts they want to buy for them.
There are two types of online learning. The first is hands-on synchronous learning environment. This is also known as live, real time learning. Examples of this can be found in online seminars, live chats and conferences.
The other type is asynchronous learning. This type of learning happens at the pace of the computer user. Learning can happen beyond classroom hours. Forums in which that can be done are by emailing the instructor to tips and guidance, by a discussion, bulletin board or submitting assignments by posting then online.
Despite the resources available in today's world, instructors and institutions alike are not using online learning to its full potential. Close to 90% of educational institutions have access to the Internet ; however only a fraction of instructors are implementing it as part of their curriculum. Another challenge is the “Digital Divide.” Lack of income, limited or no access to a computer and lack of Internet access are factors that contribute to the “Digital Divide.” Students that are on the short end of the divide are may be reluctant to work in a new environment.
Institutions are also not immune to the “Digital Divide.” There is an increasing strain on educational budgets that technology is sometimes considered an afterthought instead of a necessity.
Online learning is not a medium left only for academia. Corporate environments use online learning tools to train employees. Many continuing education, adult education courses and seminars are also held online. Software companies often give periodic training sessions for clients on how to use their products.
To ensure the success of online learning, one should begin planning an online course by establishing the goal and objectives for the course. Once the goal is set, determine how having the course online will help to enhance the class experience in terms of reaching the goal. Is the online medium a tool in which the student will be using actively, or is it a medium, which would be used to display items of interests, i.e. charts, graphics, or video?
Before creating and teaching an online course, it is important to obtain first hand experience in the resource. If one has not taken an online course, it is suggested that one does so. Online courses can last anywhere from half-an-hour and hour to an entire semester or year. When taking an online course, here are some questions to consider:
o How easy and/or difficult is it to navigate (to get around) and explore the website?
o Were you able to access the materials you needed in order to complete tasks/assignments?
o Were there additional resources listed?
o What are your likes and dislikes regarding your online learning experience?
o How responsive was the instructor?
o What aspects and factors can you take into creating your own course?
After you have taken an online course, you then have first-hand primary research as a student in the online learning environment. You can now take the experience and focus on making the online learning environment for your students enjoyable as well as informative.
The first step is to plan the content. What type of content is going to be on the course site?
What content is needed for the course?
o Assessment Information
o Submission protocol
o Measuring Student Progress
o Confidentiality Issues
o Instructor's Information
o E-mail address
o Office Hours
o Phone/ Voicemail
According to the Web Teaching Guide , a good method to use is to take index cards and write on each one what kind on content should be on the site and organize it in an easy to navigate sequence of events.
Once you have the materials organized, its time to figure out how to make the course accessible on the Internet. Below is a listing of routes one can take to get their course online:
o Internal Resources (Institutional/ College/University)
o Equipment (Computers with Internet Access)
o Computer Lab facility
o Publisher Resources: Examine your textbooks.
Some publishers do have online resources that are available to instructors, such as websites and CDs that may be free to use.
o Web space may be available for instructors at their institution. Check with the educational department and/or with the MIS department at your institution.
o External Resources
o If web-hosting space is not available, there are web-hosting packages starting off as low as $5 USD per month. Most web hosts have easy to build templates where all one has to do is insert text, documents and/or images.
o A domain name is also necessary if you are hosting with an independent company. Domain names are typically around $9 USD per year.
When you have the course online, there are still factors to consider.
How receptive will students be to the online format?
Some students may not have the experience learning in an Internet based environment. If this is the case, recommend hands-on training. Many libraries and community centers offer free “Introduction to the Internet” courses that cover the basics from e-mail, searching to surfing.
Does the instructor have adequate time to dedicate to the course, beyond class hours?
If the instructor is not responsive and engaged in using the online medium, how do they expect students to learn to be comfortable in the online environment? It is also recommended to have a variety of methods in which students can communicate in addition to the telephone and office hours. Bulletin Boards, Online Forums, Real-Time seminars, an e-mail group are practical examples. This will train and encourage the students to check the site and participate in bulletin boards and/or forums on the regular basis.
Below are some closing tips that will help in the maintenance and management of an online course.
o Take an online course at least once a year.
o Keep your online material updated.
o Be accessible online as well as offline – students tend to ask more questions via e-mail than in the classroom.
o Be open to student feedback, they are helping you to improve the online experience for themselves and other students to come.