Online By Design

One of the biggest challenges of designing and teaching an online or hybrid course is effectively adapting or modifying course activities and engagement from a face-to-face course to a course where faculty and students are online or geographically distributed. Designing online or hybrid courses is more than replicating face-to-face course features on an online platform, but rather it involves a comprehensive review of course activities, content, and navigation to design a quality experience for learners who are outside of the classroom

Therefore, one needs to understand the difference between a face-to-face course and an online or hybrid course and some of the features of online or in a hybrid/blended courses.

  • Where face-to-face courses require learners and faculty to be physically present in the classroom, online or hybrid courses offer the obvious flexibility and convenience of teaching and participating in courses from any location.

  • These types of courses also provide various teaching and learning styles that can help learners with better understanding of course content. For example, auditory learners can benefit from reviewing recorded lectures, while visual learners can benefit from slides or other visually represented content.

  • Because of the format of hybrid or online course design, these courses can reach a wider audience globally rather than a selected few in a face-to-face format, and as a result, can reach more diverse learners.

  • Learners have the opportunity to complete readings, assignments, or assessments in their own time and pace, which makes the whole learning process self-directed and self-pacing.

  • Hybrid or online learning can result in higher engagement from learners because learners usually tend to be more engaged when they are in control of the process, and have the flexibility of engaging in learning and discussions from their comfort zone, resulting in higher engagement in the course.

  • In hybrid or online learning course content is largely pre-populated, which allows faculty and learners to use their time more effectively with discussion, problem solving, and critical conversations.

Planning a Course with Online By Design Concept

1. Course Setup & Structure

While faculty start to think about their online or hybrid course design, they should certainly consider chunking content into meaningful segments with clear directions that provide pathways to progress through the course and promote student learning (Smith, 2014). Students learn new material more easily when cognitive load is minimized, and this can be achieved by “packaging information for the most efficient processing” (Nilson and Goodson, 2018: 80). To better reorganize the course contents, faculty should consider what course materials are absolutely necessary to help their students to be able learn online effectively. They also need to consider the best way to sequence the course contents, and also need to clearly share course expectations with learners in terms of content, assessments, due dates, work loads, etc.

2. Content, Activities & Assessments

Faculty need to configure the course format, whether the course is online with synchronous or asynchronous format or hybrid. Based on the course content they should be able to decide which format would be more effective, whether the selected format would be more accessible for the students, and how more engagement and participation from students can be ensured. Since the use of various learning tools and technology is a strong component of online or hybrid course design and delivery, faculty should think about using these tools in designing assessment, grading and feedback methods, delivering content in various formats, engaging learners, and successfully aligning these aspects in the course syllabus.

3. Engagement & Interactivity

While planning and designing an online or hybrid course, faculty also need to decide what type of engagement they are expecting and how that can be implemented successfully through various methods and activities. Generally, learner to content, learner to faculty, and learner to learner- these three types of engagement take place in any course. The modes and methods vary depending on the course design and format. It also could be one of the most challenging aspects of course design in a hybrid or online course. 

Learner to content is simply the interaction between the learner and the subject matter, which takes place when the learners obtain information from the learning sources or materials. This type of engagement can be ensured by providing course content in various formats, such as: visuals, audio, and text, etc. that can help learners from diverse backgrounds with different preferences, learning needs, and abilities to learn effectively and efficiently. Learner to faculty engagement occurs through information delivered by faculty through lecture, grade and feedback, or other communications with learners. While in a traditional classroom this type of engagement happens directly, in an online learning environment it can be a combination of both direct engagement through live interactions, as well as through providing feedback later. Lastly, learner to learner engagement happens either one on one or in group settings, inside or outside class setting, and with or without the presence of the faculty. While it might seem much easier to have learner to learner interaction and engagement in a face-to-face environment, in reality, it can also be challenging for learners, especially the ones who feel the pressure to speak spontaneously in front of an audience for various reasons. An online or hybrid environment provides them with the opportunity to engage with other learners in their own time and pace through various platforms, such as discussion forums, group assignments, quizzes, peer review, other group projects, and so on.    

As faculty consider offering an online or hybrid course, they need to understand and decide what kind of methods they would like to use for their courses, and how they can make the best use of all available resources to ensure better teaching and learning experience for their students.

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