4. Make it personal.

A significant plus to teaching online is the ability to create community through online forums and through personal touches to videos.

“Whether a course is offered by grass root organizers or by big concerns like Coursera; or by major universities like Duke, Michigan, Maryland or Georgia Tech, connection is the key,” writes education blogger Nan Zingrone, who has taken multiple online courses.

In an informal student survey offered by Duke, students who completed the University’s online courses said being able to not only participate in, but watch recorded, Google Hangouts on Air enhanced their learning.

And Duke’s other survey of their most popular MOOC found a “significant relationship between forum activity and completion,” especially when a course, like Genetics, was found to be “difficult.”

A sense of community can also come through with what Zingrone describes as a professor’s personal touches:

“It was the intimacy of the…broadcasts that kept me coming back for more…There’s nothing like getting a glimpse of the profs’ working environments, with clocks, calendars, pictures on the walls, coffee cups, and even pets…This glimpse of home and office, combined with the close face in the camera and the doodling on the slides, made the courses more sticky, more inviting, more likely to be the first ones I hit in the morning.”

5. Self-directed assignments.

“As much as possible, good online classes provide the opportunity for students to make up their own minds and take responsibility for their own learning,” writes Littlefield. “Some of the best courses allow students to create their own projects or focus on an element of the topic that they particularly enjoy. These courses try to avoid being overly scripted and instead give adult learners [the freedom] to construct meaning on their own.”

6. Style, baby, style.

One key to making a good online course that most traditional courses don’t have to consider is style, which includes everything from the title of the course to ease of navigation.

“Would you buy a course with a title like ‘Learn HTML’ or ‘Dissecting the Philosophical Parallels of Schopenhauer and Nietszsche? Probably not,” explains online course provider Udemy. According to Udemy, titles should be three things: short, descriptive and punchy.

Another consideration for style is in ease of navigation, since “what makes sense to the original course creator often doesn’t make sense to students that are trying to navigate through an online course” explains Littlefield. “Good courses are usually reviewed by several outside parties to ensure that students can easily find what they need and work through the course without unnecessary confusion.”

Finally, the accessibility of the course via personal technology is extremely important, as Zingrone notes: “Georgia Tech and Duke were committed to high production values in the recorded lectures and other materials that were presented on screen. In fact [one] wonderful course was so high quality, my aging Gateway laptop faltered under the strain. I had to give up before the course finished…”


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