Have you been told, “don’t take online courses,” by a teacher, professor, family member or friend? Thank goodness it is not spoken as much today as it was a decade ago when people were still more skeptical about the quality of online courses. But even back then, the statement made me want to cry as an avid lifelong learner and proponent of elearning.
Learning opportunities in the online environment parallel if not surpass learning in the traditional classroom. That of course, depends on the topic, the design of the course, the instructor, the format and the motivation level of the learner. But I truly am saddened when online course or teaching opportunities are thrown away because of a mindset that online goes hand-in-hand with poor quality.
Let’s take a look at the different types of online courses that exist, so that you can make a more informed decision as you plan your next online learning or teaching experience.
Online courses can be delivered in a variety of formats.
You will find that online courses come in many formats and have many names. In addition to the name online course, they are also called e-courses, digital courses, TV courses, distance courses, Web courses, MOOCs (massive open online courses), cd courses, video courses, computer-based courses, and more.
As you can see from the names, the delivery formats also vary. You can enroll in a course that is purely online (learners have no in-the-class or face-to-face component in the learning) or a blended learning course (also called a hybrid course) in which online and face-to-face components are combined.
As you’re considering your next lifelong learning experience, you will want to decide if your preference is for a self-study course where in which there is little to no interaction with an instructor, or you might choose an instructor-led course in which you interact with an instructor or subject matter expert.
There are variations of instructor-led courses. These can range from an instructor leading the discussion in discussion threads on a regular basis, to an instructor-led course in which an instructor is not only participating in discussion threads but also grading assessments, holding online help or coaching sessions and more. In the latter of these two instructor-led courses, you are more likely to see the content “dripped” to the students in the online environment.
What is dripped content in an online course?
Dripping content in an online course means that the students are given access to content on a pre-determined schedule. For instance, as a new student in a course, you might get access to the Week 1 content at the point of enrollment, and then get access to additional content for each additional week of the course. This technique can be used in either self-study courses or in instructor-led courses.
Sample a video course in public platforms like Kajabi Next or Udemy before rejecting the idea of taking a course.
As an instructional designer and course developer, I have been learning a lesson in semantics as I promote one of my new courses, World War 2 History: A View of the USA Home Front. The people who have had great interest in the interviews I’ve done for the course with my 93-year-old mom about the home front and life as a young newlywed during World War 2, are stumped by the word, “course.” Many are members of generations not as familiar with the Internet and common technology uses of the day for online learning. One of my own family members responded with, “I have no idea what an online course is. Don’t even try to explain it to me.”
That is the type of response you and I both should use to inspire us to ask questions in order to better understand our audience of learners or customers. You will probably hear things similar to what I’ve been hearing such as: “I don’t have time to study,” or “I don’t want to take a quiz.” If your course consists primarily of videos and a few other files that can be viewed or downloaded, then it is more aligned with “watching a movie” than it is “taking a course.” Now the trick is to figure out how to convey that message to the people interested in your content, and who would find it very easy to take time to watch a movie.
Do you prefer a cohort or to learn on your own?
Do you like to learn “alongside” others in your class? If so, you would want to look for an online course that is run in cohort groups. If the students are set up in a cohort, then everyone in the class section starts on the same day and ends at the same time. If enrollment numbers are large, then the organization or institution hosting the course might start several cohorts, each with its own instructor, of the same course.
TV courses are also referred to as lecture-capture courses
When you hear the term TV course, it usually is a reference to a lecture-captured course. In these types of courses, an instructor delivering a lecture for each in-class meeting is recorded on audio, video or both, and then the recordings are made available to the students who are learning from a distance. This type of course could be delivered as an online course or might be sent out on a DVD or other type of recording.
Is your learning schedule flexible?
The terms asynchronous and synchronous are other terms you will hear in the world of course design and e-learning. If your schedule is flexible and you can “attend” class online at a specified time, then an asynchronous course could be a good fit. This type of learning connection allows the students to be in class while a lecture or other learning activity is happening in real time. There are benefits from getting to interact with the instructor and other learners in a synchronous environment. But this delivery also has its pitfalls in that you might have to deal with dropped connections, differing Internet connection speeds causing issues, and less ability to scale the reach of the course to larger numbers of students.
If a course is promoted as asynchronous, then students do not need to be connected online at the same time as the instructor. Learning materials are accessible on the student’s schedule. For instance, a student can watch a pre-recorded lecture at any time and then post in a discussion forum or take an online quiz during the time they are connected to the learning platform.
For access to free content, try a MOOC.
A MOOC, referred to at the beginning of this article, is a Web-based distance learning course. It is designed for participation by large numbers of students and is typically free. They range in format from self-study to instructor-led. MOOCs are an easy way to access content for learning, but you will hear some say that it takes a motivated learner to stay engaged in the content and finish the course. MOOCs typically have a high rate of enrollment and low rate of completion.
Businesses offer video courses as a way to educate customers.
Video courses are becoming more and more popular as a way for entrepreneurs or businesses to share expertise for customers or clients. Creating a video course to make accessible to customers – either for free or for a registration fee – is an example of practicing the one-to-many model of reaching your following. With the fast-advancing video technology in smart phones, web cameras and screen capture software, it has opened the door wide for many to provide training in an easy-to-consume format.
As an example, a guitar teacher might teach 10 students in a day of half-hour lessons. Unless she increases her lesson price or teaches more lessons in a single day, it is difficult to scale this model of a business. That same guitar teacher could teach 100s or 1000s of students online if she created a video course to make available online as a self-study in beginning guitar.
What are your experiences with online courses?
The world of teaching and learning is changing in a quick pace as new technologies come online and make it easier to reach students or customers around the globe with instruction in just about any topic.
In what ways have you experienced online courses? As a student? As an instructor? Share a comment on this post about your experience and how you might change it in the future.