This is the third post of a four post series on the basics of creating online learning. The first post focused on the different types of online learning and some of the decisions you need to make when setting out to create online learning. The second post centred around facilitating learning over web conferencing, in environments such as Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, or WebEx. In this post I’ll overview some key points about creating multi-week, facilitated online learning.
First of all, let’s talk about what I mean by this type of online learning. (I’ve mentioned before that the terminology bandied about in the field of online learning can be varied and often unclear to the uninitiated.) If you’ve ever taken a several-week online course through a college or university (or in some other context) where an instructor or facilitator is guiding your learning online and you’re moving through the course with a group or people, that was facilitated online learning. We often use the term “asynchronous” when we refer to this type of online learning because each participant is often logging into the course at times convenient to them during the week, even though the group may be moving through the course together week by week.
Facilitated online courses are often housed in a Learning Management System (LMS) – basically a place to hold all the course content and activities in the same online space – but they don’t have to be. Once I took a simple, informal online facilitated course that was “held” on a website with an accompanying Facebook group, which gave we learners a place to talk. Online courses can also be created and facilitated “in the open” – in web spaces accessible to anyone dropping by – and not behind the registration-controlled locked door of a typical LMS.
In my work, the LMS I’ve used most often to create online courses such as these has been Moodle (an open source platform that you can install on your own servers or find a hosting provider1 for), but there are hundreds of other LMSs in the world, all with different features to meet an organization’s requirements. In the past couple of years I’ve done a couple of LMS searches for clients and we’ve begun with creating a list of the client’s requirements. This allowed us to perform a worldwide search to find an LMS that matched their needs – and budget – as much as possible.
Once you determine the platform you’re going to use for your course, next you need to spend intentional time designing the course itself. Designing for online isn’t as easy as taking your face-to-face course and “putting it online”. You need to bring everything you know about effective learning design in general (including a good needs assessment to think about who your learners are as well as their capabilities in the online sphere) as well as knowledge of what your LMS and other educational technology that is available to you can actually do to support your participants’ learning. If you’re wondering where to start to know how to create online learning, the course called Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) Design might be a good option for you; it’s available as an OER through BCcampus if you’d like to offer it in your setting2. In FLO Design you won’t just hear about how to design online learning, you’ll spend the four weeks of the course starting to create – at a high level – a unit of online learning, as well as a prototype learning activity.
Of course, after you effectively design an asynchronous online (multi-week) course, you’re next going to have to facilitate it. This is where the rubber often hits the road. I was once a student myself in a deathly 12-week online facilitated course where the instructor was hardly ever “present” (as we say in the biz) and the course’s uninspired design fostered little engagement between the small number of course participants. I could hardly stay interested and engaged in the online course, and you better believe I remarked on it with wonder to myself, because I’m in the business of online learning and I felt like dropping the course! So there are online facilitated courses and there are online facilitated courses; some are great, some are not so great. The skill of the online facilitator – as well as a robust, foundational course design for the actual course – can make a big difference to learner engagement and of course the whole result of whether the course will actually “work” to help learners learn…the whole point of why we’re going to all these efforts to design or take online courses in the first place.
The Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) Fundamentals course offered through BCcampus and RRU’s Continuing Studies3 is a good place to start to develop skills in asynchronous online facilitation. I’ve been involved in FLO Fundamentals – and its precursor, the Instructional Skills Workshop Online (ISWO) – since 2013 and it has been transformational to my work as a designer and facilitator of online learning.
Well, as with the other two posts in this series, this is just scraaaatching the surface of some of the considerations when creating online learning in this particular mode. (This is an entire field of study and practice after all!) Stay tuned for the next post in the series, which will be about creating e-learning (self-study, self-paced courses) – probably dropping sometime next weekend.
1I am an affiliate for a Moodle hosting company based in Vancouver which stores all course data on Canadian servers (very hard to find in the world of LMSs at a reasonable cost); contact me if you’d like more information.
2I’m also facilitating a FLO Design course through Royal Roads University’s Continuing Studies starting April 20, 2020.
3I can also be contracted to facilitated FLO Fundamentals to other client groups as it is available an OER. I have facilitated FLO Fundamentals more than a dozen times since 2013.