6 keys to a good online course

[In no particular order]

1. The subject is career skills-oriented.

In a major boon for Duke University and their online offerings, their course, “Data Analysis and Statistical Inference,” hosted by Coursera, was its most popular MOOC to-date, with over 85,000 students in the class from around the world.

To better understand what made this course so popular, Duke conducted a survey of its students, with one of the questions asking: “Why are you taking the course?”

Perhaps a no-brainer, but something important to keep in mind, is that students overwhelmingly took the course “because it teaches useful skills.” The second most common reason for enrolling is related, says Duke, since students also took the course to “expect to learn a skill relevant to their academic field.”

Learn more about Duke’s survey here.

2. It’s organized by learning objectives.

Another factor Duke credits for the MOOC’s success was in the delivery of learning objectives. The course had seven units, organized by learning objectives, and students are given very clear instructions on what they are expected to be able to do at the end of each unit.

Another way of putting this? Know what your course aims to teach and let your students know your vision.

3. There’s access to a variety of different materials.

Duke’s survey also noted this characteristic, but multiple sources from major universities, as well as students, have said that access to different multimedia and traditional materials is one of the major benefits to taking an online course.

However, multimedia doesn’t just mean a video lecture. In a separate study using data from a variety of MOOCs offered by Duke, the University found that when instructors offered innovative ways using different mediums to relay the course objectives, “watch lectures” is not significant—meaning students didn’t want, or need, lectures to complete the course.

“We believe this suggests that content can be effectively delivered in MOOCs in ways other than only through video lectures.”

Learn more about the study here.

It’s also important to remember that there is a balance between offering enough engaging material and overwhelming students with options.

“Sometimes, overloading a course with too many ‘extras’ can be confusing to students…Good online courses enhance learning by including videos, interactive activities, podcasts, and other multimedia elements. To make multimedia use successful, these elements must always have a solid purpose and must be done in a professional way,” explains Jamie Littlefield, a distance education expert who specializes in writing about alternative education.

(Next page: Keys to a good online course, 4-6)