Online learning programs are growing in demand and choice by students who are independently learning on their own through the vast resources available to them. Some of these students are distance learners who have little or no actual class time with the teachers. Motivated students who choose to learn independently need interaction in the course design so that they can understand accomplishments, reflect with other students, interpret the material, and create projects for teachers. The following are various types of interactions that can be implemented in an on-line course that is primarily consisted of distance learners.
Student Reflection upon Material: The benefit of writing on-line course materials is that teachers can express their own perspective upon the content and guide students through the skills that they have defined as most important or relevant to course. Because students need to sense accomplishment after a targeted content goal is reached, courses need to provide reuse and reworking of ideas studied, and courses need self reflection of newly learned goals. Activities need to be created that reuse the material in creative ways, and stages of growth need to be clearly identified to the user so there is a sense of accomplishment. This does require a planned chunking of the data so that steps in learning are clearly identified to the user. Web pages, screen capture software, and video provide great lesson explanation, but the teacher must have moments of sending content to the teacher that expresses an accomplishment of that learning.
Automated Feedback: In addition to self reflection and teacher generated exercise, courses should take advantage of automated feedback sites that provide students with graded responses. Most textbooks today have an accompanying web site for basic skills review, and they generate reports for the teachers. Reports are based upon participation and success levels, and the reports also help the course creator and teacher understand quickly which concepts are being understood and which concepts need better explanation and/or course design. These reports while beneficial are only a portion of understanding a student’s progress, and there should be a clear understanding that students are expected to experience failure during those sessions and to obviously learn from that failure.
Student to Student Interaction: Scaffolding a project so that students can collaboratively create educational goals in a new and creative way is important. Give students the right background to take your content to the next level though research, design, writing, and presentation. Students who are learning through design, evaluation, reediting, and presenting are developing skills that are important in a technologically changing world. Teachers must provide projects that require collaboration with other students outside the classroom, and teachers and course creators need to develop the virtual classroom space so that students sense the social impact of the course too by experiencing other learner presentation and opinion.
Student to Expert: Experts in the field produce, develop, and create materials that discuss their content for free. They even respond to motivated learners who are framing their questions and opinions appropriately. Teachers should never underestimate the good will of experts who will respond to students who go above and beyond in contacting expert professionals. Students can easily document this interaction and provide samples to teacher of the learning moment.
Student to Teacher: As course objectives are met in the course students should submit clearly defined learning outcomes to the teacher. Those can easily be placed as emailed objectives throughout your online course. In addition to this the teacher should have times when the students can communicate directly with the teacher as a class via on-line learning virtual space and individually through online office hours to ask those real time questions that can’t be properly expressed or lose their meaning in an email. Milestone type or level type projects that represent a mastering of a skill, concept, genre, and/or other definable learning objective should be clearly made available to the on-line student for proof of accomplishment. This also provides a sense of learning FLOW that keeps the learner motivated.
These particular thoughts were based upon an online learning program that is truly for distance learners who don’t have access to the live classroom for a blended learning scenario. This is not an exhaustive list, but I do believe it helps frame the online teacher’s mind in how he/she needs to communicate with his or her learners. This type of online learning needs to read like a conversation between the teacher and the student, and it needs to engage the student by providing check points for knowledge gained so that the student feels connected to the material. If you have other ideas that I should place upon this list please comment below.