To critique the effectiveness of online learning designs, we participated in two different courses: a training on virtual teams and another on making beer. Everyone in our group currently leads a team, so we have decent experience in that realm. Yet we are hardly beer-making experts despite sufficient beer-tasting experience. As four learners representing a combined eight learning styles (based on our primary and flex styles from the KLSI 4.0), we purposefully sought out these disparate experiences to analyze how different online designs impacted our learning.
Our first course was a simple training through Skillport on effectively leading virtual teams. Despite the short length (two thirty-minute videos), good structure, and closed captioning, the narration flowed so quickly it was impossible to take notes without pausing the videos. Graphics were crisp and relevant but used repeatedly. Though the course served as a good reminder of best practices, it lacked useful tips and depth for experienced leaders, causing some of us to disengage and not feel empowered to think critically.
The course essentially followed the adult learning theory of behaviorism. “Here is something you should know. We’re going to tell you about it and then quiz you at the end to see what you’ve retained.” To successfully complete the course, a quantifiable outcome of a 70% post-course quiz was required. There was some cognitivism involved in that information was provided for the learner to process and remember, resulting in a learned capability. Overall, we didn’t feel our one hour was time well spent.
Our second course was an EdX MOOC about the science of beer. While we won’t say that beer has more audience appeal than leading virtual teams, we appreciated this course more because of its on-point structure. Learning objectives and a course overview were followed by easily-digestible video and audio content with learning checks, assignments, and discussion boards throughout. Experiential learning was a big player here and even some social-cognitive learning.
We analyzers and experiencers alike appreciated the facts, theory, and data presented in multiple forms: flow charts, graphs, verbal, written. The narrators also kept a reasonable pace, using inflection and humor to make their points. To top that off, a transcript ran concurrently on the side of the screen, bolding spoken words in real time in case we missed something. How much easier can following along get?!
All of this allowed us to assimilate and observe information that later would prove useful for conceptualizing the process of making beer and personally experimenting in the DIY module. The DIY module also touched on social-cognitive learning by giving us a chance to watch beer making in action and learn from others’ mistakes. Periodic quizzes within the modules also provided creative ways to test our knowledge while discussion boards allowed for processing and reflecting. Finally, a thorough conclusion rounded out the course and tied together approximately four hours of learning.
Based on these course samples, we’ve decided that if you want your online course to be effective, you must understand your target audience and ensure that some content will be new and worthwhile to them. Please use a mix of visual and audio components and a relevant mix of graphics and words to best appeal to multiple learning styles and maintain audience engagement. This seems easier to accomplish over a longer span of time, so go ahead and make your course a little longer. Spending more time on our learning will be worth it.