7 tips for successful online courses
Want to create an online course and already have your scheme of work including target group analysis, learning path, and storyboard? In the storyboard, have you already identified the media you think you want to use to communicate your content? Then you’re ready to design your eLearning course in the authoring tool. But when should you actually use which media? How long should texts be? And how often should interactive features appear? This article provides you with 7 practical tips that are guaranteed to make your online course a success.
Less is more
When you think back to your time as a student, you’re sure to remember the times when you were given new learning materials. The thicker the pile of papers, the less motivated you were. In order to prevent learner overload and demotivation, the order of the day for online courses is “Less is more”. You will already have given your online course a clear structure and specified your topics and subtopics in your scheme of work. Now that you’re creating the course, you need to ensure that you don’t overwhelm participants with a flood of information. So you first need to reduce your texts to a minimum, steering clear of filler words and redundancies. Your authoring tool should (ideally) also include a lot of features to help you prepare interactive content.
Use boxes, collages, timelines, speech bubbles, tables, accordions, hotspots, questions, quizzes, and interactive videos. This will allow you to break up long passages of text and create varied content, providing learning material in small bites and continually requiring your learners to interact with it. Presenting material in different ways brings variety to your course and avoids overloading it with texts. Making content easy to navigate helps learners find their way around the course.
Whereas we tend to forget text that we have read relatively quickly, we retain information much better if we can have a direct influence on what is happening on screen. Whether it’s through interactive tabs, drop-down boxes, image and text carousels, accordions, buttons, hotspots, interactive flip cards, or videos, the more learners can interact with content, the faster they will climb the learning curve. Don’t be afraid to take full advantage of all the features on offer, but make sure that you don’t overwhelm the learners at the very beginning of the course. Choose a specific selection of features for the first course, and introduce new elements as learners start each new course. This way, both the learners—and you as the author—can familiarize yourselves gradually with the interactive features.
Quizzes and tests
You need to assess learning on a regular basis to ensure that learners consolidate their learning. Before you present them with an actual exam, however, quizzes and tests are a playful way of helping them to prepare. Not only to enable learners to demonstrate what they know and check their progress, but also because doing quizzes progressively reduces the fear of major examinations. Test questions can be integrated at any point in a course and can cover whatever material you like. Using different types of questions allows you to design tests that are varied and cover a variety of content.
Variety for all learner types
Experience has shown that groups with a certain number of participants or more will contain all types of learners. Since each learner type is best able to absorb information in a particular way, it is important to use features that are as varied as possible and that are suitable for all five types. This is the only way to ensure that no learners are neglected or demotivated. Here, it is useful that many people can often be assigned not only to one learner type, but to two. Experience has shown that groups with a certain number of participants or more will contain all types of learners. Since each learner type is best able to absorb information in a particular way, it is important to use features that are as varied as possible and that are suitable for all five types. This is the only way to ensure that no learners are neglected or demotivated. Here, it is useful that many people can often be assigned not only to one learner type, but to two. Basically, the more senses a feature appeals to, the better the learning outcome. This is why videos remain the most popular medium, because they appeal both to visual and to auditory learners. Basically, the more senses a feature appeals to, the better the learning outcome. This is why videos remain the most popular medium, because they appeal both to visual and to auditory learners.
learn by seeing, reading, watching, and observing. Learning materials that support the process: pictures, graphs and diagrams.
- Interactive videos
- Images with hotspots
- Matching exercises (text/image or image/image)
- Picture selection questions
- Boxes in different designs
Reading and writing learners
retain knowledge best through reading and absorbing the most important information.
- Gapfill exercises
- Interactive tabs
- Continuous text
- Info boxes
- Matching exercises (text/text)
- Dialog questions
- Speech bubbles
- Drop-down boxes
- Hotspot texts
While interactivity is the first stage in getting participants involved, gamification goes much further, including features from games in non-game contexts. Learners benefit from rapid feedback, a logical learning path, and changing perspectives, but also from the emotions that are automatically evoked when playing. Curiosity, ambition and competitiveness motivate people to rise to the challenge. As they play, participants revise and consolidate the knowledge they have already acquired from the courses. Knowledgeworker Quiz, for example, enables employees to compete against one another or against a virtual opponent in competitions and duels.
When using features, make sure that you always provide alternative delivery options, to enable learners with disabilities to take full advantage of your courses. Solutions can include the provision of speaker texts as audio files, keyboard controls to enhance usability, and the provision of descriptive texts for image media. If the employees concerned use assistive technology such as screen readers, these can be very helpful.
All content should, of course, be fully responsive, so that it can be used on any device. Ideally, your authoring tool should be able to create responsive courses itself, without additional programming.
The bottom line
A successful online course should be clearly structured and easy to navigate. If it is, you can delve deep into your “box of tricks” for features. The goal is to break large amounts of text down into small bites and to involve participants in what’s going on. Using a variety of features will ensure that you take all types of learners into account. But be careful that your employees aren’t overwhelmed by your first online courses.
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