The Five Attributes of Excellent Web-based Courses – What a Student Should Expect

Sunday, Mar. 1st 2009 6:20 PM

There is little doubt that online courses and degrees offer exceptional convenience and value. The ability to study from your location of choice at a time most convenient to you certainly offers both cost savings and greater flexibility.

However, anyone seeking an education should be equally concerned with the quality of course offerings. If you are not careful, greater convenience and frugality could result in a “you get what you pay for” educational program.

Sarah M StewartWith online programming here to stay, it is imperative that students understand what to look for when considering such a study option. Quality web-based programs are defined by specific characteristics – students looking at online courses and degree options should look to see if the following attributes are present.

Online Education Demands a Different Approach

The process of creating an effective and engaging online learning environment is different from that of traditional education. For example, an online class constructed simply of taped 45-50 minute lectures, a list of readings, or an uploaded curriculum (followed by online tests or quizzes) shows little consideration for the student or the learning process.

Rather than merely making content available for access, online instruction should be designed to engage learners in a variety of activities. Quality online instructors create various forms of interaction ensuring that mastery of course material is a result of doing rather than simply by reading or listening.

In formal terms, online courses should do much more than make content available – these courses should create a true learning environment.

At the same time, an excellent online course will offer multiple pathways through the material depending on a student’s prior experiences and knowledge. Those with little or no prior knowledge must be provided potential additional resources to help them gain the necessary background. However, for those with the basic information, those materials should not be mandatory reading or made into busy work.

Here again, these pathways must be designed for easy delivery within the online medium. The course should engage and immerse the student in the learning experience even as it puts students in charge of their own learning.

Use of Multiple Technologies

The beauty of the web now is the number of different technologies available for professors. The best online courses take advantage of the many options available.

With blogs, wikis, instant messaging, podcasts and streaming video, information can be presented and collected in many different ways. Even chat rooms, once designed as text-only now can provide student participants audio and video signals.

Dan HBecause of all the new hardware available, the best online courses will offer options for the many mobile devices available. Being able to access course materials via iPods, pdas, and smart phones through wireless hot spots can be a great help to some students but they may not be viable for others.

Again, the best online courses will incorporate multiple options for students ready to implement those techniques. However, the course will not be designed to feature bells and whistles unless those aspects enhance learning potential. In simplest terms, technology should be chosen according to how it will help meet the specific learning objectives of a course.

Great Online Courses Feature Caring and Competent Teachers

Ultimately, a quality online program is similar to that of a traditional option in that the course is taught by an excellent instructor. The attributes that are identical in both settings are teachers that are subject-competent, highly skilled and diligent.

Other general attributes include a great sense of humor and high, clearly articulated expectations. Competent teachers also are able to provide clarity when material becomes more challenging or ambiguous.

Lastly, these instructors willingly provide effective feedback to students. They are able to reinforce accomplishments through proper praise yet provide fair and constructive feedback when students fall short of expectations.

mcwetboyWhere online teachers differ from those in the traditional setting is their ability to instruct in their respective environment. Online teachers must be masters of the technology being used and understand the different methodologies associated with instruction in an online environment.

Therefore, excellence in online education requires more than a caring educator with subject expertise. They must be adept at the various forms of technology utilized within the course and the process for making the content come alive in the online environment.

A Sense of Community Is Present

A definitive weakness of online programming is the lack of face-to-face contact with the professor and fellow classmates. An inability to interact with others can create a class that feels impersonal and where students feel alone.

In contrast, one of the most positive aspects of traditional education is the sense of community that can be created. Therefore, it is imperative that online courses work to create a sense of community within the online environment.

Without a connection to the professor or other students, participants are unable to arrive at a complete understanding of the content. Therefore online instructors must work to develop a social presence.

whurleyvisionWhatever formats are to be used, blogs, chat rooms or email, the best online teachers understand that this sense of community will not happen by chance. To facilitate such an environment, great instructors work to include collaborative learning projects and small group activities where students are connected through the technology provided.

And as mentioned before, the instructor will utilize all forms of technology, including the use of audio and video whenever it is appropriate. Ultimately, a quality course will, at least at times, be more than just the written word.

An Excellent Web-Interface

The ability to easily access all the key material elements of a course is also critical. The course design, especially those technologies to enhance learning and community, must be easily accessible and working with minimal interruption.

The simple theory is that a great web-interface cannot make up for a poor teacher or a lackluster course. But a poor interface can ultimately ruin an excellent class.

Mr. PloughAccess to a clear study guide must be available at all times. A list of FAQs prominently posted can serve to help students get answers to common questions instantaneously.

Most importantly, the interface should be intuitive and offer multiple points of entry to relevant material whenever possible.

Summary Expectations

Online classes are very different than those delivered in the traditional classroom setting. They are taught by caring teachers who are as tech-savvy as they are content experts and therefore understand that online learning demands a different approach.

These individuals then utilize the technology available to ensure an interactive learning environment that creates a strong sense of community within the course. All the while, they understand the importance of timely and relevant feedback for students.

Most importantly the course is offered with an intuitive and high-functioning web-interface.
Online programming is definitely here to stay. Such programming is convenient and often-times less expensive than traditional classes.

However, quality should also be of utmost importance. Students looking at online courses and degree options owe it to themselves to hold these programs up against these fundamental standards.

If a school consistently offers courses that fail to meet one or more of these attributes then it is time to look to another study option.

Flickr photos courtesy of Sarah M Stewart, Dan H, mcwetboy, whurleyvision and mrplough.


Posted by Thomas | in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

2 Comments on “The Five Attributes of Excellent Web-based Courses – What a Student Should Expect”

  1. Oscar Says:

    Apart of in article mentioned requirements for good web course i would add well presented content in logical order. Oh dear… i have seen too many web courses where lecturer jumps from one point to another without any logic.

  2. Meaghan Says:

    As the use and development of technology continues to increase it is no wonder that online learning has exploded on the scene. With all of the possibilities for web-based courses these days your advice will help steer people in the right direction. Thanks for sharing!

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