The secret to a successful online learning course

Stop! Don’t type another single word! Before you open Moodle or PowerPoint, look at your topic. As a professional educator, you need to think about how your participants prefer to learn. This article offers effective strategies on setting up your course for success. We look at the business and education goals that should guide your course structure and content.

The first step in creating an online training or education programme is to close your computer and go fetch a cup of coffee. A top quality, unique training course evolves from your head and your heart.

  • Don’t be tempted to open a software tool like PowerPoint to set up an outline.
  • Avoid the internet – once you have seen what other lecturers have said about the topic on SlideShare, you’ll struggle to find your own personal approach.
  • Ignore lists of content or presentations you used in the past, text book chapter headings or a high-level curriculum.

With old-fashioned pen and paper, use bullet points or diagrams to sketch out:

  1. What are your measurable business-level Performance Goals?

Can you quantify what impact this training will have on employees in the daily execution of their responsibilities and tasks? If you want training to be allocated management time, commitment and budget, you need to prove your value at a business level. Examples include:

  • a 30% increase in sales
  • a 50% reduction in complaints, waste or time taken
  • be able to accomplish a specific task

2.     What is your primary education goal? What do you want learners to remember from your course in 2 years?

3.     What are the 5-9 essential key concepts that must learners must understand be able to accomplish for themselves after completing your course? This goal affects WHAT you teach – the content of the course. This often identifies irrelevant themes and “pet interests” that have crept into a programme over time.

4.     Outline any non-content learning that must be encouraged.

Do you want your learners to develop and practice cognitive skills like problem-solving or improve the way they deal with people, computers and words? Are there changes in attitude required to modify how staff think and feel about this topic, task or activity? These goals strongly influence HOW you teach.

5.     Who are your learners and what is their existing level of understanding about this topic? What challenges might they face in terms of language, computer skills, physical disabilities, or prior knowledge that is different from what is now being taught. Could learners be influenced by personal issues like lack of confidence, work stress, seniority, extroversion/introversion, youth/age, cultural norms or gender?

6.     How does this course fit into the larger discipline of your subject? Is there another course that must prepare the way for this subject, and what will your learners study next. This provides context and ensures you present a streamlined and sequential learning experience.

Course Objectives

Expand each course goal to include objectives and tactics – Word and PowerPoint are timesaving tools at this point but continually refer back to your handwritten notes to stay on track. Your course objectives can be categorised many ways, but the following outline might help to structure your thinking. Many courses do not expect all five levels of learning.

1.     Knowledge

Facts that must be memorised, recognised or recalled.

2.     Comprehension

Learners must summarize, rephrase, compare, contrast or combine ideas and theories.

3.     Application

Learners must apply rules, concepts and principles to solve a problem, or be able to apply their knowledge to a new, specific situation.

4.     Analysis and Integration

Learners must identify relationships between concepts (cause and effect) and draw conclusions. They must be able to support their opinion with examples from their own experience.

5.     Evaluation

Learners must critically assess the principles learned. In what situations should these rules and theories apply (or NOT apply). Learners should recognise the strengths and weaknesses of any new techniques, and how to fill gaps in their knowledge with further study.

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