Archive | January 2013

Setting Up An Online Learning Experience

According to Conrad & Donaldson (2011), the key to creating a positive experience in an online learning environment is to identify the students’ needs and then incorporate activities that address their various learning styles, life experiences, and expectations. In order to do this, there are two factors that must be considered. First, the instructor or designer must be proficient regarding course design and technology tools. Second, the instructor must set clear expectations for students, not only in terms of academic performance but also learning climate.
Technology Tools  MM900286755[1]

There are several learning  management systems available to create online courses. Each provides its own tools for navigation, resources, communication, and interactivity. As an instructor, it is essential that one is proficient in the use of all technology tools available and can efficiently navigate the course. If the instructor does not know how to use these tools, how can they become a personal resource for students? Although, there is always tech support, it is often a convoluted process. Rather than call in, wait for a long time, and possibly not get assistance needed; they can simply ask the instructor. It is also important that the instructor creates opportunities for students to learn how to use these tools. There are several ways for an instructor to facilitate this type of learning. Conrad & Donaldson (2011) posit that the best way for students to learn to use the online course tools is to actually use them. To that end, it is suggested that the instructor determine students’ current skill level in order to evaluate readiness. This can through a simple survey or an activity such as a scavenger hunt. In any case, these are not graded assignments, just an assessment for the instructor to ascertain where and with whom additional support may be warranted.

imagesCA4K9G0Z                                          Student Expectations

Like with any course (face-to-face or online), it is essential that the instructor set clear expectations for students in terms of academic performance and personal interactions. The most effective learning environment is one in which students
are clear about what is expected and how performing according to these expectations will ensure academic, professional, and personal success. Sheridan & Kelly (2010) posit that indicators that were most important to students dealt with making course requirements clear and being responsive to students’ needs. Students should not have to make a guess regarding learning tasks or grading. This should be made crystal clear at the very beginning of course. In addition to a syllabus, rubrics, and exemplars of
completed learning tasks; an instructor can utilize weekly teaching guides to reiterate what needs to be done and how each task should be approached. Boettcher & Conrad (2010) suggest that teaching guides in the form of a short text, audio, or video piece will introduce the goals, purposes, and activities for the week. Additionally, they will provide a rational for learning activities chosen and introduce core concepts.

Other Factors

The Quality Matters program suggests in its Quality Management Rubric (2011) that there are eight critical components of an online course that must be in alignment to create an effective online learning experience. These components: (1) Learning Objectives (2), Assessment and Measurement (3), Resources and Materials (4), Learner Engagement (5), and Course Technology (6) – work together to ensure that students achieve the desired learning outcomes. So in both the design stage as an ID and the preparation stage as an instructor, it is essential to continually check and balance elements of the course to ensure there is alignment amongst these components.

Using some of the best practices suggested by Palloff and Pratt (n.d.), the instructor can create a strong, positive, and collaborative learning environment that will assist in this alignment. A great deal of this work is done before the course even starts. During Week Zero, the instructor does all the things necessary to set the context of the learning environment. It is when they introduce themselves, icebreakers, offer words of welcome, and review available information about each student. There are specific guidelines that govern these suggested activities.


  1. Introductions: The instructor should post a narrative about him or herself and respond to student introductions by asking probing questions. Do not post a CV.
  2. Icebreaker: The instructor should utilize an activity that is non-threatening, fun, and does not require students to have specific content knowledge to complete. The most effective icebreakers are those that will provide continual dialogue.
  3. Welcome: The instructor should not only post a welcome message but reach out to students individually in Week Zero or One to set the tone for instructor/student interaction.
  4. Review Student Information: Instructor should use information that was provided about the student from the school/organization as well as student biography to learn about each student.
  5. To-Do-List: The instructor should create a to-do-list or course preparation checklist to ensure that he or she has met all the expectations for setting up the course. Additionally, the instructor should create another checklist to utilize throughout the course to ensure they are participating actively in the learning through weekly prompts, feedback, discussion responses, student questions, and grading.

By doing all these things, the instructor will create a climate that is interactive and supportive. While it is important to explore and learn content, “we don’t want education to be deadly serious…engagement should be fun” (Palloff and Pratt, n.d.).

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

MarylandOnline. (2010). The Quality Matters program rubric. Retrieved from

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (n.d.). Launching the Online Learning Experience. {Video Presentation}.

Sheridan, K. & Kelly, M.A. (2010). The indicators of instructor presence that are important to students in online courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(4).


This entry was posted on January 27, 2013. 6 Comments

Online Learning Communities

Dr. Palloff defines a learning community as one in which students and faculty explore content together to construct meaning and knowledge about that content. If we use this definition as a foundation, it helps us to clearly understand how this type of environment can impact both student learning and student satisfaction. Literature on learning theory suggests that one of the most significant factors for knowledge acquisition is that social interaction. One such theory, constructivism, suggests that the most significant learning occurs when students have the opportunity to “study a topic from multiple perspectives’ (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2008, p 185). Instruction in an online environment supports this learning model because being open-minded, being exposed to multiple points of view, and providing analytical feedback on a topic is mandatory. Thus, the very structure of this environment provides a platform for students to engage in and benefit from opportunities of social learning. In other words, it creates a learning community. This learning community, in turn, impacts student satisfaction. The very nature of the learning environment requires the instructor to not only set up an environment that is safe, welcoming, and supportive, but also one that allows opportunities for students to be challenged, yet successful. Ormrod (n.d.), suggests that people have a basic need for competence, a need to feel that one has done something well. A well structured learning community in an online environment will allow for interaction, feedback, and support that will motivate students simply because they have continuous opportunities to demonstrate their success and learning and have it be acknowledged by others.

In order to create an online learning community, certain elements must be present. There are elements that the course itself must possess and then there are elements that the instructor must implement. In terms of design, the course must include learning activities that actually promote a learning community. Specifically, there must be opportunities for knowledge acquisition, content linking, and performance development. As students are interacting with contact, as suggested by Pratt and Palloff (n.d.), they should also be interacting with classmates. If the students are not supporting one another, challenging each other, drawing information from one another, or providing critical feedback, then they have missed an opportunity to master and apply content through social learning.  The instructor basically makes all of this happen. His or her job is to create a risk-free and welcoming environment. How the instructor introduces his or herself and sets up the technical tools for learning is critical. It is important for the instructor to be creative and structure tools, resources, and supports in such a way that epitomizes learning community.


A central component of a learning community is that students and the instructor essentially explore content together in order to construct meaning and make it applicable to their own lives. Siemens (2009) contends that in order to truly learn, we must connect with the material. With adults more so then children, it is necessary to provide information on future trends that we can build our educational systems and from that be able to explain what’s occurring in the world today. Specifically, if we do not experience a sense of connectivness with the content, no significant learning will occur. Thus, not only must the learning structure be consistent, it must also have some direct connection with the learner’s prior knowledge and/or experiences. I believe by keeping this in mind and continuing to create opportunities for students to identify connections and recognize relevance, learning communities can be sustained. As the facilitator, it is up to the instructor to provide such opportunities.


According to Boettcher and Conrad (2010), online learning is comprised of three elements: the learner, the mentor or faculty member, and the knowledge/content. Thus, it is the way in which these three elements interact with one another that will foster or hinder the development of a learning community. In an online environment, learning often becomes a team effort. Through dialogue, project development, and group seminars one is able to build their own base of knowledge by being exposed to multiple perspectives and interpretations. This type of knowledge acquisition requires trust and open-mindedness that cannot be achieved outside of a learning community.


Boettcher, J. V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ormrod, J.E.; Schunk, D. H., & Gredler, M. (2008). Learning theories and instruction. New York: Laureate Education, Inc.

Ormrod, J. (n.d.). Motivation in learning. {Video Presentation}

Pratt, K. & Palloff, R. (n.d.). Online learning communities. {Video Presentation}

This entry was posted on January 13, 2013. 3 Comments