There are so many myths and misconceptions about online learning. Most support the idea that high-quality learning can’t take place in an online setting, and that it is not as effective as face-to-face teaching. Opinions abound. Yet, just as there are good and bad examples of face-to-face teaching, the same can be said for online education.
I’m someone who has not only learned online but taught online and designed online courses. The truth is that I’ve had successes and disasters in both my online learning and teaching experiences. From these experiences, I’d like to put forward five recommendations for consideration by novice or experienced teachers of online courses.
• Show your face (and your voice, if possible). One of the problems that some students have with online education is that they don’t know who their teachers are because they can’t see or hear them. Consider adding a small photo of yourself next to your text instructions. Better still, insert short audio or video here and there in your course. This personalizes instruction and the students’ learning experiences.
• Be an online learner. One of the best ways to improve your online teaching skills is to be an online learner yourself. Select an online course (on any topic) and throw yourself into the encounter of being an online learner. This will prove beneficial in the case that you find yourself having to design or teach online courses in the future. Taking this hands-on approach will help you to better understand the perspective of the learner.
• Use verbs. To help your learners understand what is expected of them, use active language that guides their learning processes (click here; contribute to this online debate; explore this site; interview an expert). Good online courses provide clear guidance to the learner.
• Interaction Just as you wouldn’t dream of “delivering” a three-hour lecture without learning activities in an on-campus class, remember that online students need to be active learners too. To achieve high-quality learning in any context, learners’ actions are more important than the teachers’ actions.
• Online learning can be offline too. Although the idea of online education conjures up visions of all online learners being glued to their screens, remember that students who enroll in online courses are able to complete learning tasks away from the screen or, even, offline.
These rules of thumb have been gleaned from my practical experiences, collegial discussions, academic reading and my postgraduate studies in online learning. I hope that what I have shared here will engage other online educators in discussing some of their own rules of thumb in the realm of online education. I’d like to also acknowledge my colleagues, supervisors, and students at Avondale College of Higher Education (New South Wales, Australia), The University of Newcastle (New South Wales, Australia) and Edith Cowan University (Western Australia) for learning alongside me on my online education journey over the past two decades.