I have been an eLearning Web Developer for about five years now. If there is one thing I have learned it is that online learning is only going to grow. Traditional colleges and community colleges alike have shown interest in offering online courses to their students. Although I have not yet seen online classes for early childhood students, I’d bet that an LMS will be specifically designed for them in the future. The average five year old can use a tablet much more easily than some adults I know, so it will be interesting to see how Subject Matter Experts work with Educational Technology Specialists to transform content for young students learning online. In my opinion, this is where the current disconnect is found in eLearning today. It seems that Lead Faculty and SME’s do not understand how to modify their course work to fit an online structure.
All speculations aside, I want to point out a few things I have come across during my time as an eLearning Web Developer, in hopes that these points serve as tips for ‘eLearning 101’:
Content needs to serve a purpose.
It seems like the majority of the online learning content I have come across has a theory of randomness applied to it. This isn’t something to laugh about, especially from the student’s perspective when you consider how much they are paying for undergraduate or graduate courses. Let me give you an example of online content I have seen:
Imagine that you are taking an Art History course. You’ve reviewed the Syllabus and you enter into your very first discussion where you expect to see a topic about Cave Paintings, and BAM… you are met with a picture of a gorilla standing next to a flower on top of a cliff. It was not in the course outline that you’d need to be prepared to discuss gorillas or flowers or geography. So why is this picture here? What does it have to do with cave paintings?
Nothing. The answer is nothing.
Images and Multimedia need to leverage the learning experience.
Just because you found fifty videos that show how to do a math problem doesn’t mean you should use all fifty videos. Ask yourself, if you were a student, how many of those videos would you actually watch? Personally I’ll admit to MAYBE watching half of those videos, granted they are no longer than eight minutes a piece. Twenty-five videos multiplied by eight minutes is over three hours of viewing time. Unless faculty are using videos and only videos to teach (which is not a feasible way of teaching online,) this is asking a lot from a student. The 21st century is not a learner that deals easily with mundane, ‘video after video’ content. It should always be kept in mind that videos should be used as supplemental materials to the learning experience of a student. So when it comes to using images or videos in course work, mix it up a little but do not go overboard!
Yeah I said it.. keep it simple, stupid! Although this might be the protocol for advertising, KISS also applies to online learning. Keeping things simple and to-the-point is the foundation of engaging online content. From a web development perspective it is always important to keep things simple in order to mask the complexity of what drives a website. This is to ensure that any end users are not scared away. When the end user is a student, the same theory applies.
I have two associates degrees and two bachelors degrees, and I’d say I am somewhat of a professional student or student for life. If I could talk to an SME or lead faculty as a student, I would tell them that ‘Less is More’ when it comes to their online course work. Being a web developer and having done my BA fully online makes me a good candidate for talking about what content works well for the 21st century learner. As an eLearning Web Developer I really felt the need to speak up as I have experienced really great online content, and really poor online content. I have high hopes that in the future we as educational technology specialists can bring a more positive learning experience for online students. Through cohesive efforts and strong web usability development it is possible to bridge the gap between an engaging online learning experience and students from all walks of life!