Online Learning

Standardized curriculums get a bad rap from those who value the spontaneity and flexibility of an impromptu teaching style, but standardization benefits online students. The high level of organization and thoughtful production of course material can make the classroom experience more enjoyable and remove barriers to online learning. Here are a few best practices to consider:

1. Create a resource plan

Consistency is important when people work in online course development. Project management consultants at TenStep recommend starting with resource plan. Gather books, websites, articles, films, podcasts, videos and other materials related to the topic and compile them in an organized list that can be accessed by all team members. Decisions about the relevance of each item can be made in a meeting.

2. Categorize tasks

Divide the team according to skills, such as instructional technology, user design, graphic design, writing and project management. With everyone focused on specifics and dedicated to a pre-determined schedule, each module or unit of the course can be completed in a streamlined manner. Allow time for feedback at the 50-percent mark and again at the 75- and 100-percent marks.

3. Hire experts

E-learning industry experts advise hiring a subject matter expert (SME) to create and write the course curriculum. The SME can work with the project manager to choose textbooks for the resource portfolio and write student-facing language for unit overviews, assignment descriptions and quizzes. The SME can be an outside contractor or someone on your team who is highly knowledgeable about the topic.

4. Allow fluidity

You can use a standardized course over and over again, but if the design doesn’t allow instructors to touch upon current events or new research related to the topic, the course may seem dry and uninspired. Ask the instructional designers to include plugins for special announcements, news feed and other types of media that will lend a fresh air to the class semester after semester.

5. Employ focus groups

Before launch, set up a focus group similar to the student body and ask them to complete the assignments and read the material. The group should report errors, unclear instructions and other glitches. Take the test stage a step further by having the SME teach the class for its first few runs. After that, the SME might possibly oversee or train new instructors. Not sure how to set up the group? At InterQ, a qualitative research consulting company, they outline the pros and cons of outline and face-to-face focus groups.

6. Maximize the interface

Instructional platforms — Blackboard, Canvas or other eLearning solutions — are ever-evolving products. Keep track of updates and new features by inviting sales representatives to your meetings. Invest in training and encourage staff to explore the interface’s tools for multimedia, communication and record keeping. Meet with the team frequently to reassess how the course is organized.