Online courses are the flavour of the month, and the number of new ones being developed is growing exponentially.  And why wouldn’t they be.  With easy access to information online, more and more people are looking to the World Wide Web to grow their knowledge. But discussions with colleagues about what makes a good online course highlights that not all online courses are built the same.

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So here are our top 4 things which should be in any online course best practice guide:

1. It’s all about the learning

People study something because they want to learn something useful.  Something which will help them get ahead or do something better.  We are all too busy to be just learning for learning sake (yes, I know that’s sad, but it’s also very true).  So any online course should have at its core – what will the learner learn after completing this online course? as its starting point.  From this point you can determine the learning design, and remember flashy content and online quizzes are not king.  Consider: the learner, the learner’s needs and abilities and the learning outcome to drive the online course’s learning design.

2. Take into consideration what the learner might already know (or be able to figure out themselves)

Don’t assume all learners are the same, or that all learners learn the same, so don’t drip feed them their information.  Online course management systems allow you to trigger information to be exposed as a person progresses through each section, often hiding the content and/or the final assessment until the learner has trawled through the online content maze.  Good learning design would show the learner upfront what they will be learning (and assessed on, if relevant).  Have a course outline / map available which highlights what the course will cover. Businesses don’t make their customers go through each of their website pages to find what they wanted, so why do we make our learners?

3. Benchmark what you do against what others do

Don’t develop your online courses in isolation.  Creating anything without the input of others is a poor design process. There are lots of examples online of how others have created their online courses, or ask your network what they are doing or have seen. Invite colleagues and other key stakeholders (ie employers, industry people) to view your online course.  Most importantly, ask your learners about what they liked and didn’t like about your online course.  Be prepared to change things.

4. Provide support

People often think that it will save them money (or make them lots of money) to create a set and forget online course.  There are plenty of online courses which work well in this mode, but it can be very isolating from the learners’ perspective to be studying online and not knowing what to do if you get stuck.  This support may simply be an email or phone number of someone they can contact.  Or it could be a ‘Q&A’ forum, where participants can ask a question which the course facilitator or the other learners can provide an answer.  Also ensure that there is plenty of information upfront about how to get started ie induction sessions/manuals/videos which have clear instructions about the course structure/system.

This has been a quick brainstorm of key things we consider to be important when designing, developing and managing online courses, but we know there are plenty of other ways of ensuring best practice – so please share your top online course best practice tips below in the comments section.

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Our top 4 things which should be in any online course best practice guide
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