If you want to succeed in distance learning there are a few things that are very important to keep in mind. First of all, it’s a mistake to think that distance learning means that the students should study alone when they feel that they want to. That approach is guaranteed to end in failure. I order to function distance learning must rather be more controlled and structured than classroom learning and that students must never feel alone. Here is a list of the things that I have come to find are key-factors to make the learning successful.
1. Keep the social presence high
The bay far most important thing in distance learning is that the student doesn’t feel alone and overwhelmed in their studies. Research from Australia has shown that raising the social presence is the single most important thing when it comes to student results. Luckily there are several ways to work with this when building a distance course. The modern learning platforms are called MOOCs and they are built with the social presence in mind, but even if you use an older or simpler platform there are several things you can do to make it more social.
First of all it’s important that you student get a chance to present themselves. It’s really no different from social medial where we constantly socialise. Studies have even shown that when the student was obligated to add an image along with their profile, the student results went up. It’s important however to point out that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an image of yourself, you can use an image of your dog if that makes the student feel more comfortable, but any kind of image will reduce the sense of anonymity.
To increase the sense of presence even further there should be a lot of group discussions in written form over time or on a digital meeting. Group-assignment are great and the student can collaborate in a Google-document to solve a problem together.
2. Structure is everything
The most important thing when constructing a distance course is a super clear structure that is easy to recognize and follow. Creating structure in education is always one of the teacher's most important tasks, but it is far more important when you are creating for distance learning. A clear structure with clear instructions also has the effect that the student feels confident that the teacher really knows what he or she is doing.
One way to build structure is by using an easy-to-follow long-term planning where the student can see step by step how they should move forward towards the course objectives. Another way to to it is that each assignment has the same graphic layout and the same structure. It is important to take the time to think about which parts should always be found in every assignment. These parts could be that every assignment must have a formulated purpose, a problem description, reading references and instructions. In addition to these things, all the tasks should end with what web designers call "CTA".
CTA stands for Call To Action and it means in short that there should be some form of link or button at the bottom of the page that catches the user when they have reached that far. If the user is only met by the end of a document without references to what they should do next there is a great risk that they just close the tab and you have lost them.
3. Do not use too many digital tools
When forming an online course you need to use different digital tools in order to give the students the information, keep the collaboration up and letting the students explore different ways of learning. The golden role is however never to use more tools than necessary. You don’t want the students’ time and energy to be taken for the wrong purposes. In the worst-case scenario that will only result in frustration and drop out.
A common beginner’s mistake is to focus on witch tools that can be used for the pedagogical strategies that you had in mind. For collaborative assignments, the teacher can set up a Padlet and then you use Wakelet for information board.
I would say that this is not the best way to plan your digital course. It’s much better to start by thinking about the subject that you are teaching and consider which digital skills the students will need in that subject. I teach history for instance, and in the curriculum for history it is stated that the student should learn the skills to present history in different ways. In language studies on the other hand the curriculum talks about the ability to read and master different kinds of text, the skill that we call multimodality.
When planning an online course it’s therefore crucial to see which digital skills you will want the students to take with them after their education and focus on them without feeling tempted to introduce others simply because they seem fun and interactive. The student only has so much time and energy to give you so you should help them to invest it well.
4. Keep the assessments short
The Australian researcher Joyce Seitzinger talked in a lecture about something that she called “study pockets”. She explained that a typical student have a study time of ca 1 hour at a time before it becomes overwhelming. Every assignment should be constructed in such a way that it will take the student ca an hour to complete it and cross it of. 60 minutes of work is what most students can fit into their “pockets”. The teachers job is to split the nexessery work into 1 hour pieces and place them in the learning platform. This will help the students to complete the course that you made for them.
I am the technician who became a librarian, but who got tired of the quiet and peaceful life at the library and started working as a teacher. I brought with me everything I knew about databases, information retrieval and networks and soon I was an ICT-educator. Today, I work as a teacher at Komvux in Norrköping.
I have always had a nerdy great interest in technology. I can find interest in everything from robots to model railroads or the steel industry of the industrial revolution. Technology should take us forward and prevent us from everything boring. You need to dare to be somewhat lazy and ask yourself if there is no easier way to get something done. The human desire to get away is what has driven the technical development and find time for other things. Like model railroads, for instance!
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