an online student with an "aha!" face

10 suggestions for smarter online course design

Online course design tips from an instructor who teaches students to fly

For every pilot flying an aircraft today, there is an instructor who made it happen. Teaching someone to fly an aircraft involves multiple layers of skill and ability, psychological intuition, courage, and logic. Online course design can benefit from what we have learned about teaching someone to fly.

Today, pilots can accomplish all knowledge-based training online and complete all airline jet flight training in a motion-based simulator. This technology is so realistic that a new First Officer joining an airline will begin flying passengers without having ever been in the actual airplane beforehand.

Online aviation courses have made similar advancement with designs that allow students to interact with aircraft systems animation. Students can turn virtual dials or push switches and watch what happens to the aircraft hydraulic system. While this technology achieves fantastic realism, online course design in aviation still relies on the basic understanding of how humans learn and how they react.

10 suggestions for smarter online course design

1. Provide a course syllabus with clearly defined course objectives at the beginning of the document. Save all the rules and regulations for the end. All higher-ed faculty create a syllabus anyway, but make sure the syllabus clearly shows the student not just what they will learn, but how the training will help them reach their goals.

2. Find out a little bit about the background and experiences of the student. If you have an introductory forum post, make it about more than just exchanging surface information. Take the time to learn about the students’ existing skills and knowledge. This will help you integrate the coursework with what they already know and help them relate personal experience to the learning process.

3. Let the student know everything that is expected of them right from the start. Make sure there are no moving targets. Students will get frustrated if they believe they have mastered a lesson or skill to a defined level, only to discover they are only halfway there.

4. Keep grading up to date and reward achievements often.

5. Students, especially adult learners, have a need to control the pace of an online course and to decide when they can start and finish a lesson. Try having just a few hard dates instead of making each lesson and each assignment start and stop at a strict time. This may not work well with group assignments such as discussions, but having quizzes available any time throughout the course will help the student feel they have some control over the lesson delivery and give them some freedom to handle personal schedule disruptions.

6. Adult learners have life experiences along with a desire to “self-design” a lesson. Take advantage of this by giving the student scenario-based training but make it real and relevant.

7. Student of all ages like student comradery. Instructors can fulfill two adult learner needs at once by creating self-directed projects that involve other students or use other people as resources, advisors, and mentors.

8. Use technology that fits the lesson, is easy to use, and readily available. No one wants to be required to learn how to use some new technology during a course. If new technology is required, then have a pre-course technology-training module before the course begins.

9. Treat the adult learner like an adult and refrain from spoon-feeding. Students learn when they have to think things through instead of reciting facts. The act of searching for information results in unintentional learning.

10. Remember that learning is a two-way street that requires a teacher and a student. Set a cooperative learning climate that involves effective communication in both directions. Try using your learning management system’s chat feature to improve availability and communication. It is doubtful that feature will get many users, but the fact that it is available demonstrates your commitment to communicate and aid your students.

eSchool Media Contributors