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Designing distance learning courses

October 8, 2013

Firstly I should clarify what I mean by a ‘distance learning course’. A distance learning course is something that:

  • Is undertaken remotelyMouse and Globe
  • Typically takes a number of weeks, months or years to complete
  • Includes self-study and assignments

I’m not talking about elearning tutorials or online webinars, though these may form a part of a distance learning course.

With the prevalence of freely available learning material there has never been a better time to create a distance learning course. With some careful searching and curation you can assemble a course using pre-existing resources. Don’t just make it all about knowledge though, remember that participants want to learn new skills too.

Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping process can also be applied to the design of distance learning courses.

  1. Identify the skills that you are trying to teach to students
  2. Design assignments where students can practice these skills
  3. Seek and curate some core learning materials that will support the assignments, and encourage students to do the same
  4. Design in ways for students to collaborate on assignments and add to the body of knowledge
  5. Consider whether you will accredit or grade students and what form this will take

Without the motivation of a tutor and fellow students physically being present, ‘completion’ rates can be low. In our free Rapid eLearning Development (ReD) course we see the following approximate ratio:

  • 100 people – enrol and are sent joining instructions
  • 60 people – log in to the social network where the course is hosted
  • 25 people – make a start and tackle some of the assignments
  • 12 people – form a core group and complete more-or-less everything

Essentially about 10% ‘complete’ the course. This rings true with massive open online courses (MOOCs) whose completion rates are typically around 7%*. Do I mind? No. Just because people haven’t completed everything it doesn’t mean they haven’t got value from the experience. We explain that people can pick and choose what they undertake – not everyone needs to learn everything.

What I get great satisfaction from is watching that core of 12 or so work together and collaborate. They are often from different sides of the globe and from different cultures, yet they are able work effectively together.

 

* This figure of 7% comes from a study by PhD student Katy Jordan conducted of 29 free MOOCs over 2012 and 2013.

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