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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Not all online classes are the same. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of poorly produced, bore-you-to-tears classes available that, in the end, simply do not provide quality education. On the other hand, there are some truly inspired, engaging, and educational classes that truly live up to distance learning’s potential. Here are a few key factors that can make or break the quality of online courses:
It’s a delicate balance to strike, but properly paced online courses are the best. Proper pacing ensures that the student is neither bored nor overwhelmed; they have enough time—and notice—to complete large projects while also remaining engaged by small assignments in the interim. These small assignments should never pile up and overwhelm the student, nor should they be meaningless, tedious busywork.
The most exciting aspect of online classes is their ability to present content in ways that books and lectures cannot. Great online courses capitalize on this fact by incorporating a variety of multimedia elements into the presentation, such as videos, podcasts, interactive activities, and more. This is unquestionably more engaging than reading a long text document, and the information is much more likely to be retained as a result. However, simply including multimedia for the sake of including multimedia is insufficient. The content must be well-written and serve a specific purpose. A forty-minute video of the professor mumbling into his webcam is not an example of good multimedia use.
When the content of a course is of high quality, you become engaged and curious, and as a result, you learn much more naturally. This is in stark contrast to courses that rely solely on drab textbooks and regurgitative, fill-in-the-blank quizzes. Low-quality content feels laborious, and the information is rarely retained. High-quality content can take any form: videos, websites, audio presentations, and so on. What matters is whether it lends itself to natural learning. Would an expert in the field, regardless of the online class, recommend it to anyone interested in the subject? This is the type of content that the best online courses use.
The best online classes recognize that their students are adults who can make their own decisions and take charge of their own education. Students become frustrated or, at best, fail to make meaningful discoveries on their own when the course is overly micromanaged, with assignments dictated to the smallest detail. Good online courses allow students to create their own projects and investigate the aspects of the subject that interest them the most.
One of the most serious risks that online courses face is student isolation. Great online courses mitigate this risk by encouraging students and faculty to interact online. For example, a class may have an off-topic discussion board where students can talk about anything that interests them, such as the playoffs or a tasty new recipe. Alternatively, a class may require students to collaborate on a group project via an online forum. This fosters a sense of community and provides students with the necessary support to ask questions or seek guidance.
Everyone learns in different ways. Some students are very visual, while others need to hear information out loud in order to remember it. The best online courses incorporate as many learning modalities as possible into the presentation—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, musical, and so on. Students can study in the way that works best for them this way.
The course layout should be clear and simple to follow. Students should always know what to do next and how to find relevant information and resources. Third-party organizations have reviewed the best courses, which are designed to be easy to navigate.
Many courses, in an attempt to be flashy or stylish, employ a slew of technologies in their delivery, frequently requiring students to download a dozen new plug-ins or sign up for third-party services. The problem is that it doesn’t always work, and everyone ends up wasting a lot of time and energy troubleshooting. The best courses only use technologies that are as dependable and widely supported as possible. This makes the online learning experience much more enjoyable for everyone.
Great online courses provide resources that provide additional information and a greater depth of detail to curious students. Another fine line to walk: having too many supplemental add-ons can be confusing or stressful, but it’s critical to give students the opportunity to learn more if they want to. The key is to clearly distinguish the core class requirements from the extra resources, so students understand exactly what is expected of them and what options are available.
It’s a difficult quality to define, but the best courses are designed to provide students with a diverse and engaging learning experience week after week. All too often, online courses fall into a formula and then repeat that formula for the duration of the class. This will be a very boring experience for the students, and the course’s actual educational value will suffer as well. The best courses are created by people who have given careful thought and focused effort to creating a unique and engaging class experience from beginning to end.