How to get the maximum from an online course


We have 5-week online teacher development courses starting April 13, although my own Technology for Language Learning course lasts a week longer.

I have fairly extensive experience as an online learner, as a tutor and as technical support and one of the questions that always seems to come up is how to copy and save everything that has been said on the forums.

While doing the spring cleaning, I've just come across my answer to that on the support forum on the previous edition of the technology course:

From experience as an online learner I'd suggest that:

  • Copying and pasting everything said on the forums is a waste of time. Inevitably, a lot of what gets said isn't going to be particularly valuable afterwards. By "valuable" I mean what you take away from the course — the things that you'll really use afterwards in your classes
  • What is worth doing is selecting and saving (only) the most interesting things somewhere (in a Word document, a Google Drive document or on a blog, which could be a private one). Sometimes they're only little things — ideas, questions, not whole messages or paragraphs; sometimes they're things the tutor has said, sometimes things your peers have said (and perhaps even things you said yourself 😉 !)
  • The important thing is that process of selection: not copying and pasting everything but copying and pasting and editing — because that's where you start to construct knowledge
  • Vital also is to participate fully on the forums: don't just lurk, participate! And don't expect the tutor to tell you everything: a good online course shouldn't just be a lecture, it should be a dialogue, an ongoing conversation
  • Apart from what is said on the forums, it's also a great idea to save the most interesting links somewhere (my personal favourite tool for that is Diigo)

To get the most out an online course you probably want to start doing all that from Day 1: do it during the course, not afterwards, when it will quite possibly have become a mammoth, impossible task.

The other thing I really recommend is writing a "learner diary" blog, which can be either totally private or else shared with classmates. I've never been convinced by them for language learners, but as learner diaries for language teachers they can be great.

Copy and paste the "important bits" there, and reflect on them. You don't need to write a lot!

10 eLearning design principles

#1: First and foremost: the interaction between learners…

This one was passed on to me by Fiona Thomas, who quoted:

Grab a piece of paper and pen (or new browser window) and jot down what you believe are your top 10 eLearning design principles. These should be the beliefs and goals that drive your eLearning design process and eventual implementation. Once you have done this, watch this video…

I've not actually watched the video yet (posted on Jason Renshaw's English Raven blog) but here are mine, Fiona, in approximately order of importance:

  1. The interaction between learners is way more important than interaction between the individual learner and his/her computer
  2. Learners need to know exactly what they are expected to do, how and when (including deadlines)
  3. Clear indications must be given of what is going to be evaluated, how
  4. Content must be multimedia (audio, text, images, video…)
  5. Activities must involve learners creating and sharing things together: they should not be merely consuming "content"
  6. The learning must be "social": the activities must lead to the creation of good group dynamics and (thus) a feeling of community
  7. Content and activities should provide practical, useable ideas, not merely theory
  8. Learners should be encouraged to try those ideas out with their own classes and report back on success (or lack of!) to a public course forum
  9. Delivery of courses should be preceded by needs analysis, and must then meet those needs
  10. Courses should ideally have some form of external accreditation

I was thinking more in terms of online teacher training courses, which I have been involved in designing, rather than language learning, but I think that most of the above would also apply to that.

And I'd suggest that at least 3 or 4 of them should apply in a face-to-face language classroom in which technology was being used…

The ingredients missing in Second Life

Fifa10: now that's what I call a game!

An article on ASTD caught my eye this morning: Ten Ingredients of Great Games.

Which of those does Second Life not have?

While SL does have "self-representation with avatars" and "three-dimensional environments", obviously, what I found missing until I vowed never to return was "narrative context" (engaging narratives, in other words and feedback — which ASTD describes as "progress bars, zooming numbers, and status gauges, all in a well-organized dashboard that lets players know how things are going, good or bad".

Maybe I've just played too much Call of Duty, but my problem is precisely that Second Life not a game as I understand it. Who was it that said "I'm excited about any technology that excites the learners"? One reason why I'm not bothering with SL is that I just don't think it will, at least not learners brought up on Fifa10 and the like.

ASTD is the American Society for Training & Development, which modestly describes itself as "the world's largest association dedicated to workplace learning and performance professionals". Its website will be of interest if you are involved in e-learning.