Online Learning Activities

Course design structure

When you move a face-to-face course
 the structure of the weekly content will often be defined by the topics in your face-to-face course. The main challenge will not be structuring the content but ensuring that learners have enough online activities. 

Structure the course as weeks following the topics. This provides a clear timetable. Problem-based learning also allows for learners to have weekly activities.

It is important to ensure that the face-to-face content is moved in a way that is suitable for online learning. Powerpoint slides don't work. You need to reorganize or redesign the content for online (the EMC instructional designers can help with this). 

Designing online activities

There are a vast array of online technologies available that can help enhance learning activities. It is important however, to carefully select the ones that are most appropriate for your class learning outcomes. It is critical to remember the internet is part of our everyday life and has become integrated into contemporary society, and our teaching should reflect and acknowledge this. 

Introducing an online activity to a class can offer many benefits to teachers and students. However success often relies on how appropriate the activity and the chosen technology are for the learning context, and how well both are integrated into the learning process.

For the online learning and teaching experience to be effective, it is important that there is strong alignment between the intended learning outcomes and the activities that will help develop students’ achievement of these outcomes. How you choose which activity and associated technology to use can depend on a number of factors:
  • The intended learning outcomes for the course 
  • The student situation (location, access to internet, number of students in the class, etc) 
  • The learning experiences or technical requirements of the course content (eg inclusion of large graphic files, collaborative tools, live chat features, external guest lecturer access, file sharing, discussions, etc)
  • The breadth and depth of the teacher’s previous online experience 

The importance of considering pedagogy before technology.

It is important to examine the reasons for introducing an online activity– using it purely as a gadget because the technology is available does not guarantee a successful learning experience. Students value technology when it adds to their learning, not when it is used with no apparent relationship or benefit to how they learn. It is important therefore to consider the following issues:
  •  Establish the key pedagogical principles and then decide how technology can support activities that explore them: For example, what are the learning outcomes, what do you want to achieve, what skills do you want students to learn? Ask these questions and then decide how best you can integrate the technology in order to achieve or support these outcomes 
  • Technology is just a means to an end: When you teach online you can select from multiple technologies, however the technology is just a facilitator of the learning process - you still need to have sound teaching strategies in place to support the learning.
  • Activities should remain relevant to the learning process: Be discerning - don’t be caught up in allure of technology and its many features. Ensure that activities, tasks, etc have an educational purpose and stimulate learning

Choosing appropriate technologies

The table below, based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, illustrates a range of types of learning outcomes and associated online activities that may help students develop the skills or knowledge in relation to each outcome

Designing activities

This is the most critical part of the online design process. Regular student activities are critical for keeping students engaged and on task.

Research other examples

When you are new to online teaching the large number of available technologies and their possibilities available can be quite overwhelming. It is often difficult to know where to start, how to determine which technology would be appropriate, and how best to use it in your teaching. In this situation it can be useful to first do some research by speaking to colleagues; reviewing similar case studies or scenarios; researching online and professional blogs that feature the use of these technologies or strategies in teaching; and checking with the EMC's instructional designers for advice, information on training.

Start simple

If you are new to online teaching or do not have much experience, consider the following:

Stick to the basics: While it is tempting to use every new tool and feature in your activity, start slowly and build up your experience and confidence. It is better to introduce one component, use it appropriately, evaluate its success, and then adjust your teaching where necessary. Slowly introduce more components once you and your students are more comfortable with the technology

  • Use technologies that you are comfortable with: Select technologies that you are already using, that are easy use , or that the EMC provides training and support for. 
  • Ensure that you are familiar with the technology before the semester starts: This allows you to foresee any potential problems, adjust any content or tasks accordingly, and answer any questions promptly that students may have when they start using the technology.
  • Limit the number of technologies used overall in any one class: Using too many online components can be at first overwhelming and frustrating for the students and can distract from the learning experience. Use only what technology is essential for facilitating your online activity effectively.

The importance of supporting and training your students

While many students are aware of the benefits of using technology in their daily lives for communication, socializing, banking, shopping and so forth, they may not always be as familiar or comfortable with using it for learning. As a teacher, it is important for you to:
  • Explain why you have introduced an online activity: At the beginning of the semester describe the purpose of the technology, your reasons for selecting it, how it will benefit their learning, and what the expected learning outcomes are from using it. 
  • Provide briefing sessions and supporting material: Don’t assume that students are familiar with the technology. Provide training sessions at the start for students and any additional teachers, as well as supporting documentation that they can refer to when they need help. 
  • Support students throughout the semester: Answer any technical questions promptly, introduce a Q&A thread online, provide a list of FAQ, and respond to any queries promptly to ensure that the technology does not hinder or frustrate the students’ learning.
  • Ask students to help one another: Where appropriate, allow students to respond to one another’s questions, and to share their technical expertise with the class. This can greatly cut down on the time a student has to wait to get help from their teacher.
There are many  activities that can devise to keep learners engaged. All activities need to be clearly linked to the stated learning outcomes for the course and prepare learners for any formal assessment. If learning outcomes are focused on skill development, then the activities should be designed to give students opportunities to develop or practice such skills. Activities need to be regularly spaced and have an accurate estimate of the time learners will need to complete the activities. You need to make hard decisions about the balance between ‘content’ and ‘activities’.

Online students must have enough time to do regular activities each week or their risk of dropping out or failing the course will increase dramatically. In particular learners need timely feedback or comments on their activities, from the instructor and from other students.  When you design your course take account your workload as well as the students’. Most Leeward courses are overstuffed with content and not enough consideration is given to what students need to do to absorb, apply and evaluate such content.  Developing an appropriate structure and learning activities is a key step to achieving quality in online courses.

Online learners need clarity about what they are supposed to do each week. It is essential that learners do not procrastinate online.


Earn Your Badge

Learning to Teach Online by Simon McIntyre, Dr Negin Mirriahi
Tony Bates :Decide how you want to teach online.