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Five Online Course Design Tips

By Michelle Estes, EdD, ET, ABD Director of Professional Learning at Paradigm Education Solutions

As an online educator, I am always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to teach my students. I lean on my academic peers to help expand my knowledge on new practices for successful online courses. In his article, “5 Tips for Designing Effective Online Courses in 2019”, Danny Swibel, Customer Success Manager for Newrow, shares several tips to ensure effective course design and delivery.

I hope you will find these tips as helpful and will use them as a reference point as you embark on planning the content and delivery of your courses.

1. Know Your Audience

Before you start designing an online course, you must consider the audience and demographics of your student population. For example, younger students may prefer a lesson to be broken up into smaller, digestible pieces of information paired with interactive tools like video and hands-on activities, Whereas, adult learners may prefer lecture-based delivery for vital information, especially if they are hesitant to explore new technology. When I evaluate my audience first, I’m able to better identify and apply the best strategy for an effective online learning experience.

2. Create Well-Organized Micro-Learning Courses

I have learned that my students take online courses for any number of reasons. They may want to save money, take advantage of a variety of class options, or simply don’t have the time to take a traditional face-to-face course.  

For these type of online students, micro-learning courses can help.  Micro-learning is education that is provided in “relatively small learning units.” Swibel recommends incorporating, short-term, focused strategies specially designed for skill-based understanding. For example, the first module in a course can serve as the syllabus of the course, breaking down the objectives, structure, and requirements of the entire course. Each subsequent module of micro-learning can then build to those objectives. When content is delivered in smaller modules, the course is more manageable for students and gives them a better chance of successfully finishing the course.

Learning modules should be structured to ensure the students recall and understand the instructional content. Include a well-defined objective at the beginning and a summary at the end.  Keep students focused and engaged, by incorporating interactive, dynamic activities in the middle of learning modules.

3. Make Your Lessons Interactive

I needed a way to ensure that my online course is effective and measuring student success.  There are a variety of interactive tools you can add to your lessons. Swibel recommends using audio clips or videos to engage with students. I have enjoyed using Flipgrid and Voicethread as interactive tools in my online classes. These tools have provided an opportunity to make students feel connected. Also, incorporating live quizzes that assess students’ understanding in real time is also an interactive way to engage students. Using Kahoot!, Quizlet and Poll Everywhere are live interactive tools that can help identify gaps of understanding through asking questions, collecting live responses, and getting instant results.

4. Incorporate Synchronous and Asynchronous e-Learning Styles

There is just not one e-learning style that works best for online courses. I often use multiple. The e-learning environment can be divided into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous e-learning is what you would typically expect in a traditional classroom setting. It involves online studies through chat and videoconferencing. It is like a virtual classroom which allows students to ask, and instructors to answer questions instantly, through instant messaging. Rather than taking lessons alone, students can easily interact with fellow students and their instructors during the course.

Asynchronous e-learning works for those students who take advantage of flexibility and convenience of learning on their own time, at their own place, and from anywhere. This type of e-learning involves coursework delivered via the web, using email, message boards, discussion groups, and self-paced courses. Also, it’s an ideal way to disseminate knowledge to a large number of learners.  

5. Make Content Accessible

Like in traditional face-to-face courses, you want students to feel comfortable and be in an environment conducive to learning. To ensure this, Swibel suggests making the course layout clear and concise, maintaining a positive tone, and making content readily assessible to find.

Here are several questions to ask yourself when designing the content to be accessible:

  • Is the content accessible on all types of devices?  
  • Are students having to download any programs in order to access material?
  • Is the experience seamless on both a desktop and a mobile device?  

Considering these five tips by Danny Swibel may help you greatly as an instructor in creating effective and engaging online courses and turning distracted students into more active learners.

More good news

Paradigm’s digital learning solution Cirrus provides access to interactive quizzes that align with chapter objectives.

Cirrus content can be accessible using PCs, Macs, and Chromebooks.

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