Developing Online Courses That Encourages Student Participation

Developing Online Courses That Encourages Student ParticipationOnline courses provide learning institutions with a way to broaden their educational reach and teach more individuals. Nearly every type of learning can be taught in an online environment, giving instructors and course designers the freedom and flexibility to go beyond the limit of the classroom and teach in ways that would have been unimaginable before the commercialization of the internet. As the world of online courses continues to evolve and expand, not only in a K-12 and higher education setting but also in corporate training systems and other adult education environments, the challenge of ensuring participation by everyone is a constant concern.

Some of the bias against online courses is the inability of the instructor to physically engage learners in the same way as in the classroom. Some suggest that learners in an online environment simply turn their computer screen on are engaged in a monocratic process with no interaction with the learner. Whether that is actually true is an eye of the beholder opinion; however, the way in which an online course is designed has more to do with the level of interaction and participation an instructor will receive.

A Critique of Early Online Learning Environments
One of the problems with the earlier designs of online learning was the belief that the limits that are intrinsic to teaching learners in the classroom (i.e. size of the room, available supplies and equipment, time, etc.) do not exist outside of the classroom. The instructor's role, based on some technically designed course, was to provide their content in a static format, handout out a login and sit back and watch the learners learn. What took place unfortunately was with the lack of a human presence, such as a moderator or facilitator for the learning, learners were less apt to fully participate and as a result found the online experience dissatisfying. Much of the online learning that was created in the early days focused on the tools used in delivering the learning as oppose to a focus on the learner's needs. The missing element in this type of tool-centered learning was the social presence or process of socialization needed to sustain a learner's attention and motivation to participate in the course.

The Reason for Student Participation in Online Courses
Learning institutions are moving toward the development of learner centered courses that appeal to the different perceptions of learning (i.e. modalities of learning). The absence of an instructor's physical presence needs to be simulated in a way that gives online students the full sense of the classroom and classroom participation. Utilizing techniques that incorporate live discussion, multimedia webcasts, polling and other forms of interaction give students the opportunity to share their personal experiences with other learners. The institution of a pedagogical approach to online learning is important because of the demographics of the online learner. Undergraduates make up the vast majority of people who attempt at least one course online (82.4 percent). Those individuals who are of Generation X (born 1965-1980) are the majority of online distance learners (many using online courses as a way to learn new skills or finish previous degree requirements) with those in Generation Next (1981-2000) in line to become the largest population of online learning consumers. The age range for these two groups is 18 (those born in 1995) to 48, meaning that adult pedagogical learning models must be developed to produce greater student participation.

A Social Constructivist Approach to Encourage Student Participation
The word "constructivism" and social constructivism is being used more and more to describe the types of successful learning environments that yield effective student participation. A constructivist approach involves the construction of knowledge in a learning setting by including the importance of the learner's culture in relationship to the learning. Creating small groups and collaborations among online learners helps the learner discusses and debate learning in order to build on or reinforce existing knowledge. Changing the way online courses are developed to account for the needs of the learner will help make courses stronger, impactful and more able to deliver their desired outcome.

Sameer Bhatia is founder & CEO of ProProfs.com which is a leading provider of online training plateform  for building, Online testing, and applying knowledge. Sameer has a background in technology with a Masters in Computer Science from USC (University Of Southern California) and is an ed-tech industry veteran. You can find Sameer on Google+.

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