Once you’ve landed on what (content) you’re presenting, to whom (audience) and why (purpose), you can then begin preparing how (structure).

Planning course structure: the model matters
There are dozens of good models on which to base your online-learning program. (First, consider that the model you use to present material is different from the platform your institution or organization uses to deliver e-courses or online training programs.)

No matter which model you’re most closely following, good structures offer similar considerations to guide you in determining how to best disseminate key information and engage your participants—via prompts, activities, exercises, discussions, feedback channels and assessments.

Diving into the design cycle
Smart program-design strategy includes these phases:
-Planning overall course rollout – How will learners be introduced to their online learning opportunity? Is this a mandatory program? Volunteer? What’s the program duration? What happens after course completion? Understanding motivations helps you choose the best way to introduce the course to participants.
-Preparing mission-critical content to reach learner goals and program outcomes – What do learners need to know, and why? Keeping learner goals top of mind assists in weeding out unnecessary content.
-Stimulating active engagement – How do your participants like to learn online? Via discussion forums and Skype sessions? Group exercises? Reading and applying new skills to practical situations? Offer an opening survey to determine participants’ basic learning styles and online habits.
-Tapping into learners’ previous knowledge – What do students already know about the course topics? How can you present this material in a logical progression, so each new topic builds upon the previous? This natural narrative arc helps reinforce key material, and lets your learners develop schema as they add to their knowledge base.
-Providing mechanisms for participant feedback – Will participants chat with each other and / or with the instructor after each module or chapter? Will they engage with each other on assignments or complete group tasks that could benefit from critique? Providing your people with tools that empower them sparks additional engagement and enrichment.
-Evaluating learning and assessing program outcomes – What assessment measures will occur throughout the course? At course completion? Quizzes? Essays? Interviews? Presentations? Collecting data on actual learning helps you incorporate changes the next time your course is presented.

Whew! That’s a lot. Creating and presenting online-learning programs is a constant cycle of review, rinse and repeat (the good stuff). Solid design is the foundation on which you’ll build courses and programs that deliver. Each time you review and assess what you’ve presented in a chapter, module or entire course, you can make changes based on actual learning to assist your participants in reaching their goals.

Part III of this blog series will offer more resources for all of these areas. Stay tuned for June!

This is part II of a three-part blog series on tips to provide successful online learning experiences for students/users.

Eve Connell

Eve spends most billable hours writing, editing and helping professionals of all stripes with communication skills and leadership development. With degrees in French literature, philosophy, and linguistics, she also enjoys helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop their brands. Fancying herself a successful worm rancher, singer and flower arranger, Eve also lends her talent and expertise to several non-profit arts and educational organizations.
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