Thursday, 29 March 2012

Top 10 Tips: Help me develop my online course

Image from Sindy available under a CC
Attribution-ShareAlike license

Recently, as I was chatting to someone about the sorts of things involved in producing an online course, it became apparent that there were ten common areas which crop up whenever you're involved in projects like this... and which are worth knowing about before starting to develop your own online / blended courses.  I thought it might be useful to share them here too.

Top 10 Tips: Don't forget these things as you develop your online course
  1. Project management skills aren't necessarily the ones possessed in academia!  You'll need these to get it from conception to completion and beyond.
  2. The gap between design, reality and delivery can be huge - someone needs to take on the job of helping to close this.  It's probably going to be you.  Manage expectations, be realistic, prioritise.  This can make all the difference.
  3. Going from face-to-face teaching to online teaching can be scary - it's important to cut people some slack and find multiple ways to support them in developing skills and confidence.
  4. Don't wait until the course goes live for teaching staff to acquire online teaching skills - developing an online course isn't just about content. Don't assume staff can 'just do it' - and if you've got someone in to develop the initial materials, ask yourself 'what will we do when their contract ends?' as the ongoing maintenance and development process doesn't end once the course goes live.  Skills development is vital.
  5. Be clear about the objectives and get them communicated clearly too - establish what it is you're after early on as being pulled off course by new additions / other agendas / misplaced priorities can be fatal.
  6. The moment someone says 'we'll just put the PowerPoints online' should set off alarm bells in your head.  Establish your definition of what counts as online learning early and allow these conversations to air sooner rather than later.
  7. Give yourself enough time - online isn't automatically quicker, easier or cheaper.  Counter the myths and be realistic - or you'll spend the month before the course is due to be delivered going grey!
  8. Inactive content is dull.  You have to make the most of the medium and if people need help with activity design, alignment and active learning... support them to get there because it'll be worth it.
  9. Aim big if you want, but start small - testing a small sample of content on a willing group of students and taking on board their feedback is much better than hiding away and developing the whole lot... then discovering it's rubbish. 
  10. Establish a visual style guide at the outset - templates, models, examples etc help those new to online course creation - and enables you to produce a consistent look and feel to the materials.  For fully online courses, the online content *is* the University for your students!
How to get started?
So... how to do it?  Well... there's lots of stuff out there, but some places to kick-start your thinking might include:
  • Professional Development Framework for e-Learning to help give you an idea of some of the skills needed as well as checklists etc for the production of online learning content
  • Some nice design ideas from Articulate especially if you're after some 'fancy bits' to tart up a text-heavy course
  • The ADDIE design approach is also useful in establishing key tasks in producing an online course and this is explained in a simple-to-get manner by Intulogy.
  • The Design Studio from JISC is jam-packed full of resources and ideas and the curriculum lifecycle is especially helpful when you're starting out.
  • JISC Infokit on Project Management is a good place to help you with the Project Management side of things and the checklists are dandy!
  • Open University Learning Design Initiative is one to watch as the  resources and links to Cloudworks are great for activity design 

Oh, and the other thing to realise when someone asks you to 'help me develop my online course' is that as much as this seems to *just* be about something academic and / or technological... it's about people and communication. 


PS  Don't forget to enjoy the process - getting a course online and seeing students learning and enjoying what you've developed is a fantastic feeling!

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